Celebrating Black Excellence in Sport
DEION GREEN – WHEELCHAIR BASKETBALL
By Aaron Sanders
The beginning, obstacles, redemption – those are some of the stages athletes endure in their career. For 30-year-old Deion Green, he’s experienced all of that playing wheelchair basketball for Canada. In a career that spans almost two decades, there is no question that Deion has experienced a lot in the game. He has been around the world, captured championship titles and medals, and is still going strong.
Deion was born in Mississauga, Ontario, and was raised in Richmond, B.C. He has loved basketball his whole life and as a child, he played the sport with his friends. As they grew up, his friends were able to play stand-up basketball competitively. However, it was something Deion wasn’t able to do. Thanks to his father, Green was able to start his own journey of wheelchair basketball when he was just 10-years-old. He started playing in 2000 – the same year that the Men’s National Team won their first gold medal in the Paralympics in Sydney, Australia.
”I wanted to still be competitive and play, so my dad heard [from] word of mouth that they were having [wheelchair] basketball practices in Richmond, when I lived in B.C. I went there and loved it since day one.”
Deion taking a free throw. Photo: Wheelchair Basketball Canada
Green’s competitiveness shows right from when he wakes up every day.
“I like to work hard,” says Green. “I love to compete. I love getting up in the morning and knowing that I get to play basketball. Whether it is a simple practice, or preparing for the Paralympics, or tournaments throughout the year.”
At the Provincial level, Deion played for British Columbia. They won gold at the Canadian Wheelchair Basketball League (CWBL) National Championship in 2011, and silver 2012. This was the same team that had B.C. born Richard Peter, and other members of the 2000 gold medal National Team. It was a team Green was thankful for being a part of.
“Just the experience, the atmosphere, the whole aspect of it was amazing,” Green said. “Coming in as a rookie and playing with already-established legends gave me experience and knowledge I wouldn’t have got if I hadn’t played with them at that specific point.”
Green was named the Male Athlete of the Year by the BC Wheelchair Basketball Society twice in 2006, and 2013. Then, he played for the BC Royals in the CWBL, between 2013 and 2019. During his time as a Royal, he was a two-time All-Star and the team placed second in the league’s National Championship in 2017.
In 2017, Green suffered a setback in his playing career – a dislocated left shoulder. The injury required surgery, rehabilitation, and took Green out of competition. After a year and a half of healing, Green made his return by taking his skills to Ontario to join the Toronto Rollin’ Raptors of the National Wheelchair Basketball Association (NWBA) in 2018.
Green got his first chance playing for the Canadian National Team when he was 19-years-old. He was a member of the Canadian Junior Men’s Team at the Men’s U23 World Championship in Paris in 2009. When he made the roster of the Senior Men’s National Team, Deion, along with his teammates, competed in the 2015 and 2019 ParaPan American Games and won silver medals in both events. As one of the top teams in the wheelchair basketball tournament in both games, Canada qualified to play in the Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and upcoming Games in Tokyo, Japan. Deion remembered his first ParaPan Am Games as an unreal experience. Even on Canadian soil at the Toronto 2015 Games, Team Canada had to deal with adversity throughout.
Deion at Toronto 2015 ParaPan American Games. Photo: Wheelchair Basketball Canada
“At that point, we had to be one of the top two teams to get in because of our ranking going into the tournament,” said Green. “It was a rough year for us because our coach [Jerry Tonello] was diagnosed with brain cancer and we got a new coach [Stephen Bialowas]. That was some added stress to the guys. But, we pulled through and clinched a spot to Rio.”
The 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro was Deion’s first. Even though Team Canada ended up in 11th place that year, Deion enjoyed the camaraderie that grew during and beyond the Games.
“The growth we got as friends and as a family really helped us in the years after Rio,” said Green. “You win together, lose together – and we really lost together. It felt like it bonded us and if we can figure this out, then we can win together.”
Deion exercising at CSIO. Photo: Jason Burnett
The COVID-19 pandemic has forced many people, like Green, to alter their daily routines. Even though the early stages of the pandemic restricted Green from his regular training, he also saw it as a blessing in disguise. He was able to enjoy more time seeing his three-year-old son, Eli.
“[Before the pandemic], I was only able to see him on the weekends or any off weeks from basketball,” said Green. “So, that first six months of strict lockdown was a real nice time. I was able to spend time with [Eli], his mother, and bond with him. The basketball side of it was hard. I was never used to training outside because I would normally do that at the gym.”
Despite the changes, Deion was able to reflect and learn one important thing from this pandemic.
“Take advantage of every opportunity,” Green said. “[Right now], I got access to the gym. I don’t make any excuses because I never know when I’m going to be able to use it again. Make memories.”
In a world that changes frequently, the perspective of people and populations has begun to follow suit. More attention is being brought towards visible minorities, and the roles they have played in history and in todays’ society. The black community has been predominant with the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement over the last few years. Green says the movement is a positive step.
“It opened the eyes of people around me and the sports community,” said Green. “It showed them things that we black people deal with daily or have dealt with for years before the movement had taken hold. I fully support it. It has done lots of great things. It brought to light a lot of things that need to be changed and addressed.”
Team Canada represents the future generation of Canadian athletes. Deion hopes he and his teammates can set an example for anyone interested in wheelchair basketball.
“I want the future generation to see that it’s possible – whether you’re black, white, abled, disabled – to excel, get there, represent your country, and to wear the maple leaf with pride,” said Green. “It means more to me that a young, disabled kid or a black disabled kid would see me, or another black athlete, or one of my teammates and say ‘It’s possible that I can do that.’ It doesn’t have to be at a super high competitive international level. It could be any level, knowing that you can be a part of it and not have to watch it from the sideline.”
Deion at Lima 2019 ParaPan American Games. Photo: Dave Holland
Green also hopes he and other para-athletes can be viewed not just for their disabilities, but for their skills like all other athletes.
“We usually get, ‘That’s inspirational. Good for you,’ and we’re looking to push past that,” said Green. “We’re not just disabled athletes. We are athletes [in general]. We try to show that in our everyday lives. People ask us what we do, and we try to explain to them that it’s high level, we’re athletes and it’s a serious thing.”
For almost two decades, Deion Green has spanned the globe, faced adversity and gathered accolades while representing Canada in the game of wheelchair basketball. When asked about how he wants to be remembered, Green wants people to know that he was about Team Canada all the time.
“A guy who was always there for the team,” said Green. “If they need me to be on the bench, I’ll be on the bench. If they need me to score 10 points, I’ll score 10 points. If a teammate needs something in the middle of the night, I’ll let him borrow it.”
The next step for Deion is preparing for the 2020 Paralympic Games in Tokyo.
Aaron Sanders is a journalist and broadcaster for the Windsor Express Basketball team in the National Basketball League (NBL) of Canada and for St. Clair College Saints athletics. He is also Content Creator for NBL of Canada. Aaron is also the public address announcer for University Athletics including, University of Windsor Lancers athletics, and Essex Ravens football.