by Matt Saldaña
Rodney Rogers, a Durham native and former ACC Player of the Year who went on to win NBA's Sixth Man award, is paralyzed from the shoulders down, according to a report in today's News & Observer. Rogers, one of the strongest outside-shooting big men in the NBA, helped lead the New Jersey Nets to the 2003 NBA Finals, and played a key role in propelling the Boston Celtics to an awe-inspiring, and unexpected, playoffs run the year before. (That year, he shot 41 percent from behind the arc, and coming off the bench, averaged 11 points and 4 rebounds.) In three seasons at Wake Forest, he averaged 19 points, 8 rebounds, and 2 assists per game, earning the ACC Player of the Year honors his junior year, before going ninth in the NBA Draft to the Denver Nuggets. In 2000, he won the Sixth Man of the Year Award as a Phoenix Sun. Growing up in the McDougald Terrace public housing complex, he was a high school basketball and football star at Durham Hillside High School.
He was reportedly injured while riding an ATV in Vance County.
Barry Saunders' story reveals a man who--despite earning millions over a celebrated 12-year career in the pros--returned to Durham to work for the city's Public Works Department, because he wanted a demanding job. Saunders also spotlights Rogers' pro-bono community work: He co-founded the Durham Eagles youth football team, set up a computer lab at McDougald Terrace, and volunteered as a girls' basketball coach. He gave back to the Bull City, where, as a city-wide legend on the courts, he first earned his nickname: the Durham Bull.
The injury has felled, at least for the moment, a man who is more than a famous former athlete. Rogers is an ambassador for Durham. He worked with his own hands to repair his hometown's streets. He used his fame to polish its reputation. He provided computers for its poor children, and at the time of the accident he was a volunteer girls' basketball coach at Rogers-Herr Middle School.