The connection between basketball teammates often goes far beyond their play on the court.
And even when playing ball ends for good, there are certain bonds and spirits that can’t be broken.
Listening to the words of former college basketball player Jordan Bolton say, "One bad decision can change your life," will make anyone stop and reflect.
There are those life-altering moments that can happen in an instant and change the entire trajectory of one’s life.
It can happen even after repeated smart decision after smart decision.
But, one small decision, that ends up being a mistake, can have monumental consequences.
More than two years ago, Bolton was still riding high from his Apple Valley High School state basketball title in Minnesota that he earned alongside his high school teammate and now Trail Blazers guard/forward Gary Trent Jr.
Bolton went on to become starting point guard for Lake Region State College in Devils Lake, North Dakota.
But one cold evening in the middle of February in 2018, Bolton’s entire world was turned upside down.
As described in a Twin Cities Pioneer Press article:
"Bolton was lying motionless in a hospital bed late on a February night in North Dakota in 2018, shortly after suffering an on-campus accident that — briefly — took his life before he was brought back. His neck was broken, his spinal cord was damaged, he fractured the C4 and C5 vertebrae."
Bolton was paralyzed from the neck down.
Now, more than two years after the accident, Bolton has a message to share, and he's especially grateful for his continued support from Gary Trent Jr.
A Bond that Will Never be Broken
In the shortened NBA offseason, with no NBA start date in sight, Trent Jr., who was coming off a breakout season in his second year in the league, made a trip back home to Minnesota in early October.
Trent spent time with his family, telling NBCSNW that he "hadn’t seen his little brother in ‘I don’t know how long, so it was great to see them.'"
But, it wasn’t just blood relatives that Gary spent time with during his visit.
He made sure to see his best friend.
“It was just like old times,” Bolton said of their reunion earlier this month. “It was actually my birthday week and weekend. He came down for it.”
When Trent Jr. isn’t in Minnesota, he and Bolton talk on the phone or FaceTime almost every single day.
“He is my best friend,” Trent Jr. said.
They, of course, became friends on the basketball court.
“I met him in fifth grade at a basketball tournament in the championship,” Trent Jr. said. “We beat his team by 20 points and then from that day on, our families got close, we became close and we’ve been best friends ever since.”
Bolton recalls that game a little differently, but agreed it was from then on that the duo was inseparable.
“Before he came to Minnesota, I didn’t lose. It was kind of tough to swallow my pride and lose especially by 20,” Bolton said. “And by 20 in Minnesota is like running time, so the game went by really fast.”
We’re like brothers… From that point on we grew up together.
Trent Jr. reminisced of his time teaming up with Bolton.
“We had the opportunity to win a state championship with one another in high school. That’s something that we cherish, we talked about doing that ever since we was little kids and it was something that we set out to do and we accomplished.”
Their friendship of 10-plus years is even stronger now following Bolton’s accident.
“The doctors told him he had a five percent chance to ever feel anything from the neck down,” Trent Jr. explained. “A year, two years later, he has a full six-pack, he has mobility in his upper body, his legs spasm from time to time -- so, there’s a hope there -- every day he’s fighting to walk again. He works out six, seven days a week, three times a day, two times a day.”
He’s working, he’s fighting so he can walk again.
Gary Trent Jr.
The two get together whenever time permits.
Anytime I go home and any time I can workout with him, whether it’s a little motivation to motivate him, he does the same thing for me.
Gary Trent Jr.
Trent Jr. and Bolton went their separate ways in college as Gary headed off to Durham, North Carolina to bolster the Duke Blue Devils program, while Bolton made his way in a six-hour car ride to North Dakota to play for Lake Region State College.
Bolton says he never did drugs and never smoked marijuana. But the night of the accident, he was at a party where he was talked into trying THCP pills.
After taking the THCP pill. Bolten hallucinated and took off running full speed. He crashed into a wall and was knocked unconscious.
His heart stopped beating.
Bolten was rushed to a local hospital, where upon regaining consciousness, doctors delivered the news.
"I became paralyzed from the neck down. One bad decision can change your life.”
There are over 100 cannabinoids found in Cannabis, and according to TruePotency.com, THCP (tetrahydrocannabiphorol), along with CBDP (cannabidiphorol) has recently been detected in the cannabis plant, with THCP thought to be up to 30 times stronger than THC.
Over two years have passed since that fateful night.
And now Bolton is in that five percent of patients who have made significant strides in his progression of movement.
I was just kind of like, ‘well, I’m going to be that five percent and just work hard and try to get as much back as possible.’
Bolton added, “that mindset has just helped me tremendously and I’ve just seen such great recovery and it’s really not normal for my case.”
It’s obvious from speaking with Gary and Jordan that Jordan is focused on positive vibes only throughout this process.
Plus, keeping the faith has aided his progress.
Bolton says he doesn’t think of himself as an inspiration, but he added, “if I can help people, that’s great along my ride... I’ve had a lot of people come up to me and reach out to me and say I’ve helped them or motivated them to keep going.”
The Road Ahead
At just 22 years of age, Bolton’s current rehab exercises consist of full body exercises, but as of late, Bolton has been working on strengthening his legs.
“We’ve been working more on legs because now the muscles in the legs are starting to come in,” Bolton explained. “And it’s like a top down approach, so early on we were working on pretty much shoulders, on arms and now that that’s come in and then you work on the core and that’s come in for me very nicely, so now we’re getting down to the legs.”
In the beginning, I couldn’t move my arms at all -- nothing.
Now he has mobility in his upper body, including his arms, wrists, and shoulders, which is extremely rare with the injuries that Bolton suffered.
While he was describing his progress on the Zoom call interview, he was just like any other 22 year-old operating Zoom and having a long conversation.
“I can brush my teeth. I can work my phone now. I can sit up. I can just sit, seated balance.”
The fact that Bolton is able to use his wrist and hands is truly amazing considering his injuries.
Bolton explained, “the wrists now have come in, which I had a C5 [injury], so that means like my hands and wrists are the main things affected, those would be the last to come in, but I’m even getting finger movement now. I have great sensation. All body functions are back. Just a lot of positive things really.”
While he still is not able to use his legs, the Apple Valley HS standout basketball player did say he could control some leg contractions.
“There’s a lot of spasms and stuff in terms of my injury, but I can control now my muscles.”
The countless hours of rehab married with Bolton’s determination and hard work has taught him how to keep going and fight to be that five percent.
The former college basketball player also knows that without Gary and his family and friend’s support he wouldn’t have made such a leap in his rehab.
Bolton’s mother is an occupational therapist and he says that she “has helped tremendously... I definitely wouldn’t be where I’m at without [my family and friends]."
The Duo Couldn’t Be More Proud of Each Other
For Trent Jr., watching his best friend’s progress has been inspiring.
“It’s been great to see,” the Trail Blazers guard recalled. “You start to see the progress. It’s a slow grind. Slowly but surely, hopefully he can continue to get more and more back -- mobility and stuff like that. Everything is really on the up and up. He’s been working hard.”
It was basketball that truly prepared Bolton for a rehab of this magnitude.
The countless hours of putting in work on the court has translated for Bolton in his rehabilitation.
“In terms of basketball, you’re pretty much busy all week,” Bolton said. “My only off day [now] is Sunday. I workout on average at least six hours a day, every day, except Sunday.”
Talking hoops is also still on the agenda during FaceTime calls between Gary and Jordan.
As is trash talking.
“If I had a bad game, I didn’t shoot the ball good, if I had too many turnovers, if somebody scored on me too much -- he’s going to joke around, tell me, ‘you need to get your stuff together. You better be better next game.’ Talking trash -- ‘oh, this person was killing you.’ -- the same way I do to him,” GT said with a big smile.
But just as Trent Jr. has been proud of his former teammates rehab progress, Bolton has felt the same way about watching his best friend enter the NBA and have such a successful second year.
It’s been amazing. I didn’t expect anything less though, because growing up I just always knew he was going to make it to the NBA and he always said that was his goal.
Jordan Bolton on Gary Trent Jr.
And who knows Gary’s game better than Jordan?
Bolton says we are all in for a treat when it comes to GT’s offensive game.
I think you guys are going to be surprised because I don’t even think he’s shown what he’s fully capable of yet, because growing up he wasn’t just a spot-up shooter and a defender. Like – he’s a scorer. So I’m excited to see where he takes his game.
Bolton is extremely thankful for Gary and his basketball experience.
“It’s been real important because it’s developed such great relationships with not only [Gary], but my other teammates – those are pretty much what make up my friends and his friends.”
As for the NBA possibly changing Trent Jr.!?
“He’s still that same fifth grade kid I met in the first tournament.” Bolton said confidently.
However, Bolton knows that night on campus in North Dakota has changed him forever.
I just enjoy life way more now.
And he now has a message to youth everywhere. Bolton wants student athletes to consider this:
“I tell them it’s cliché to say – one decision can change your life forever, but that’s what happened with me…
I just think you’ve got to keep pushing. You’re always going to have bumps along the road, but you’ve got to just trust that you’re going to make it and you will.”