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Mavericks to sign PG Chris Wright, who will become first NBA player with multiple sclerosis

Dan Devine
Ball Don't Lie

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Chris Wright's on his way from the D-League to the NBA. (David Liam Kyle/NBA/Getty Images)

Unless you're a Dallas Mavericks die-hard, a Georgetown alum or a D-League aficionado, you might have missed or disregarded the Sunday night report by ESPN.com's Marc Stein that the Mavs planned to call up point guard Chris Wright from the developmental league's Iowa Energy and sign him to a 10-day contract.

That's reasonable, of course; on its face, the roster move seems relatively insignificant. Dallas had a roster spot open and needed another guard after waiving disappointing 2010 first-rounder Dominique Jones this past weekend, and Wright's ranked among the D-League's top distributors this season. It's a good match of need and opportunity, but one unlikely to move the needle in a significant way for the 29-33 Mavs; after all, Jones had only played four times in the past five weeks as Dallas has leaned on the Darren Collison-Mike James combo (with an occasional appearance from Rodrigue Beaubois) alongside O.J. Mayo in the backcourt.

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Even if the undrafted D-League point guard doesn't stir the echoes of Linsanity, though, Wright's call-up remains noteworthy, because when he signs his 10-day before Dallas' Tuesday night matchup with the Milwaukee Bucks, he'll become the first person who suffers from multiple sclerosis to play in the NBA.

After a four-year career running point for John Thompson III at Georgetown, the 6-foot-1-inch, 210-pound Wright wasn't selected in the 2011 NBA draft, leading him to pursue a pro career overseas in Turkey. Several months after joining Turkish club Olin Edirne, Wright fell while leaning down to touch the baseline during a sprint at practice ... and, as Anthony Olivo wrote in a January feature on Wright, things got pretty odd after that.

“It was kind of weird,” Wright said, thinking back on the moment.” I didn’t know, I was thinking maybe I stumbled over my foot or something like that, but that night it got progressively worse and the next morning I came in to shoot early before practice and I lost all sensation in basically my right leg and my right hand.” [...]

He immediately sought medical attention. The initial diagnosis, while not definitive at the time, was that he had Multiple Sclerosis — M.S. — [a] disease that attacks the Central Nervous System and, at worst, can cause complete or partial paralysis. [...]

“Honestly, I didn’t know what M.S. was,” Wright said with a laugh. “Then I remember a couple of my teammates came into the hospital and I was laying on the bed and they were all looking at me like, ‘oh my God’ like it’s something serious, and I was just like, ‘man, why you all looking at me like that? I don’t even know what’s going on.’”

Soon thereafter — his playing days indefinitely on hold — Wright came back to the States to seek further medical attention, where doctors confirmed what he was told in Turkey.

Chris Wright has M.S.

As reports and rumors spread, speculation began to circulate about whether Wright would be forced to retire. (It wasn't just uninformed media and fans, either; as Wright told USA TODAY Sports' Tommy Birch, one doctor he visited with after his the fall told him his career was over.) Even if he could still physically play, many wondered whether the diagnosis would snuff out his pursuit of an NBA roster spot nearly as quickly as it had begun, thanks in part to the public perception of M.S. as an ostensible death sentence.

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Despite that stigma, though, Wright just continued to forge ahead, undertaking a treatment regimen in which he receives monthly intravenous infusions of antibodies designed to fight the disease and continuing to seek an opportunity. (He's now in remission, according to USA TODAY's Birch.) He found one back in October with the New Orleans Hornets, who brought him to their training camp. While he didn't stick with the team, the invite did suggest that NBA openings might still be there if he proved himself with his play, which he's done in Des Moines with the Energy, averaging 15.5 points and seven assists per game in 38 starts this season.

And now, he'll get to both realize his NBA dream, offer an example for his former D-League teammates — according to Mark Emmert of the Indianapolis Star, a common refrain when the news broke in the Energy locker room was, "Don't come back" — and, with any luck, maybe make an important contribution to the public understanding of a disease that's often misconstrued. More from Birch at USA TODAY:

"Teams may back off [signing him] because of [his M.S.]," Wright said. "That's their loss if they back off.

"If they back off because of the MS, that's just their decision. ... I think showing people that I'm capable of playing and not having any side effects or setbacks from it, I think that'll open eyes to a lot of people."

In terms of eye-opening, Wright's, and the Mavericks', timing couldn't be better — after all, Multiple Sclerosis Awareness Week just started today.

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