By Chris Wilson – on behalf of Basketball ACT – 7 July 2023

It took 10 years for Albury’s Michael Gray to finally explain to his son, Jackson, the rare hereditary condition that was impacting them both.

“I never used to be able to talk about it without bursting into tears,” Michael says. “I was absolutely gutted. It took me a long time to come to terms with it because I thought Jacko would blame me, but he never has. I have to say, he’s one of my best mates.”

Michael and Jackson have Hereditary Spastic Paraplegia, or HSP, a rare degenerative disorder that affects leg strength and mobility, which worsens over time. More importantly to them, they share a love of basketball.

It’s their father-son bond and they’re on court together again as key members of the Canberra Gunners team in the NSW Waratah Wheelchair Basketball League.

Michael, 41, is captain, and Jackson, 14, by far the youngest player in the squad. But he’s one of the most talented, recently selected to train with the Australian Under 23 wheelchair basketball squad.

“I’d definitely like to go to the Paralympics and play for the Australian Rollers,” Jackson says, pointing out that his favourite Rollers player is 5-time Paralympian Tristan Knowles.

His favourite player of all-time, though, is his old man.

“It means the world to me,” Jackson says of playing with his dad.

Michael, who works for Albury Basketball, has been playing wheelchair basketball since he was 10. He gave it away for a little while, but Jackson coaxed him back.

 “He said ‘I want to win something with you before you retire dad’, so we’ve been hitting training pretty hard,” Michael says.

“To play alongside Jacko, it’s a surreal feeling. He’s getting so much better, he knows the game so well now. We train together that much, I know what he’s going to do before he does it. I’ve got the fire in the belly again.

“He’ll get out in the morning before he goes to school and do sprints up and down the road, pushing his chair. He’ll shoot 200 shots a day. He’s very dedicated, he wants to play for Australia.”

Michael was initially diagnosed with cerebral palsy and checked with doctors before having children that his condition couldn’t be passed on. He was told it wouldn’t.

“We had Jacko and then he started walking a bit funny,” Michael says, later discovering they both had HSP.

“He started having surgery when he was four-years-old. He’s had tendon transfers from the front of his leg, he’s had calf-lengthening, he’s had casting periodically. It affects the lower limbs and makes the muscles really tight, so they need to lengthen the muscles so that when he walks his heels touch the ground.

“He’s had growth plates put in both of his knees because his knees were bowing. That’s now causing his feet to collapse, so he’ll need surgery again for that in September. Doctors said he needs it or he won’t be able to walk.

“When ordinary people walk they use a certain amount of energy. Jacko uses 30 times that amount because it takes so long for the message to get from his brain to his legs.”

While Jackson walks with splints on his legs, Michael can’t take more than 10 steps and so is in a wheelchair virtually full-time.

With wheelchair basketball opportunities limited in Albury, the pair have linked with the Canberra Gunners and travel the 3.5 hours to the nation’s capital every weekend to train.

There are 10 teams in the NSW Waratah Wheelchair League in 2023, and last year, in the inaugural season, the Gunners finished runners-up.

“I reckon we can win it this time and bring home gold,” Jackson says.

After an undefeated start to the season, our Gunners Wheelchair team are back in action this Saturday 8 July – for Round 2 of the GTK Waratah Wheelchair League at the Minto Indoor Sports Centre – with three big games – vs Central Coast Crusaders (10.10am), vs Manly Warringah Sea Eagles (12.30pm) and vs Hills Hornets at 4pm.