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Scott Howard-Cooper

Kerry Magro (right) met NBA great Oscar Robertson at the Hall of Fame in 2009.
Courtesy Kerry Magro

Using hoops, and the NBA, to get out the word about autism

Posted Apr 2 2012 10:30AM

He remembers trucking 230 pounds around on a 6-foot-2 frame as a high school freshman and being socially awkward. He remembers how difficult it was to meet people, and the day he was cut from the JV team. He remembers feeling alone.

No hint of heartache comes through the phone, though, as Kerry Magro describes his journey. There is no sense of bitterness over an often-painful path, now that he is 24 years old and now that he can use that previous life as a contrast of how far he has come.

Now that he is inspired.

The teenager who struggled with autism has become an adult working to motivate others, hoping to educate families dealing with the condition and to raise awareness.

The high school freshman who chopped his way through conversation has become a motivational speaker, addressing businesses and schools and parent groups about autism. He's on schedule to earn a Master's degree from Seton Hall in strategic communications in the fall.

The 230-pound ninth grader? Fastbreak gone. Magro was so driven by the JV tryout, disappointing as it was, that he dropped 60 pounds before the next year, made the team as a sophomore and played varsity as a junior and senior at Community High in Teaneck, N.J., a school for students with learning disabilities.

Playing there, near his home in Jersey City, showed him that anything is possible. It became a way to foster social interaction and form friendships that likely would not have come otherwise. His parents gave the self-described disinterested student a book on Magic Johnson, and Magro got interested in reading. He came to call Johnson a role model. Basketball has been prominent on many layers of Magro's development.

The connection to the game as an adult has reached all the way to an ongoing relationship with NBA Cares that today has special meaning with World Autism Awareness Day. That got him a media credential to the Hall of Fame enshrinement ceremonies in 2010, where he saw an induction class that included the original Dream Team. Magro did not get to meet Johnson, as hoped, but he did talk with Charles Barkley, a new favorite, Scottie Pippen, Karl Malone, Oscar Robertson and others in Springfield, Mass., for the festivities.

That was the same year Autism Speaks hosted Tip Off For a Cure, a gala fundraiser at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Commissioner David Stern chaired the event and spoke. Dikembe Mutombo, Earl Monroe, Gail Goodrich, Bob Lanier, Darryl Dawkins, Clifford Robinson and many others with NBA backgrounds attended. Bill Bradley, the former Knick and U.S. senator from New Jersey, was honored.

"It meant a lot," Magro said. "I had always liked Dikembe Mutombo and also Clifford Robinson because he had been a Net for so long and I'm a New Jersey native. It meant so much to me to meet those guys and see them working for the cause and making a better day. A better day, in this case, for autism."

He grew up a Lakers fan and followed the local teams, too. As Magro put it, "One of the main things with autism is we get very, very focused on certain things. My hook was the basketball." That was at the very end of the Showtime years and into the Lake Show era.

Magro, diagnosed with a form of autism at age 4, got into basketball, got into better shape and immediately felt part of something. In many ways, Magro said, it's impossible to know the ways the sport has changed his life for the better. His grades improved, he attended Seton Hall, earned a degree in sports management and stayed for grad school.

"It's given me so much motivation toward life," he said of the game and the league. "Life in the NBA was amazing then (in the 1990s) ... All the people were putting so much commitment and time into making their dreams came true."

He wanted to follow that. So far, it has taken him to a high school career he never could have imagined, to a college degree with another in sight and to raising awareness about autism.

Magro once struggled to live with autism. Now he can talk about his journey without any sound of heartache. Now that he is inspired.

Scott Howard-Cooper has covered the NBA since 1988. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.

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