The Long Road Back For Renaldo Major

by Matthew Brennan,

Renaldo Major in action for the Dakota Wizards.
Layne Murdoch/NBAE/Getty

November 21, 2008: The summer and fall of 2007 was supposed to be full of promise for Renaldo Major. The 6-7 forward had just completed a season with the NBA D-League's Dakota Wizards where he won a D-League Championship, earned NBA D-League Defensive Player of the Year honors, and made his NBA debut after receiving a GATORADE Call-Up to the Golden State Warriors. After a trip to China with the NBA D-League Ambassadors' team, Major went back to work on his ultimate goal of making an NBA roster. However, his NBA dream was sidetracked by an obstacle that could have put his career and even his life in jeopardy.

"I was going to go Italy, but I didn't want to go overseas because I knew I had a chance to get in the NBA if I kept working," recalled Major. "The Denver Nuggets invited me to camp, and I was doing well there but when I took my physical they found a heart murmur. I went in, they scanned it and they found a valve loose. I was hoping that I wouldn't have to have surgery, but I did and they fixed it up. I feel blessed because I could have passed out on the court, there are a lot of kids out there who passed out and died on the court, and I was blessed not to have that happen. The doctors who did it for me in Chicago, they got me in there right away and did the operation so I felt blessed all around."

The discovery of the heart murmur might have averted disaster, but Major was forced to sit out the entire 2007-08 season and put his basketball career on hold. His tough year was made even more diffcult when his father, who had been a great support to him during the rehab process, passed away in May.

"I took the year off, the rehab was tough, but my dad kept my strong and my peers kept me strong," said Major. "But then my dad passed away and that was worse than the heart surgery, it was like my heart was repaired and then re-broken again. It's been a rough year so far but it's good to get back on the court and I know my dad is always with me. He's in my new, repaired heart."

After the surgery, Major was forced to be inactive for months during the rehab process. As time moved on, he needed to start working hard to get back into basketball shape. He lost close to 25 pounds from his playing weight of 200 pounds and had gone months without even holding a basketball in his hands. Now Major is making his return to the basketball court in training camp with the Dakota Wizards, where he experienced such a succesful season two years ago.

"It was rough. I actually cried for the first two months it was so painful. I couldn't move, I couldn't wash myself, I couldn't even feed myself," recalled Major of his experience after the surgery. "It was like I was a baby all over again. My dad kept me strong every day though, my brother did a great job looking out for me, my grandmother was dedicated to me. Everybody helped me out with my recovery but it was very tough. It was months until I could get a basketball in my hands and start shooting again. I had to get my body back in shape, I lost about 25 pounds and I already was a skinny guy. I had to get my weight back up, but now my heart feels good and my body feels good, and the coaches and the players are surprised at the level I am at and I'm just ready to go."

A grueling NBA D-League training camp of two-a-day practices can be daunting for any player, but it can especially be a challenge for someone who is coming off of major surgery and hasn't played basketball in over a year. Major had to dedicate himself even harder than most players in order to get back in shape for a new season. His spirits received an added boost when he was checked out and doctors told him that his heart murmur was gone and that the surgery was a success. The only remaining affect of the procedure is a thin pad he wears to protect his chest, the same pad that was worn by Washington Wizards' forward Etan Thomas after his own heart surgery that Washington lended to their NBA D-League affiliate.

"I'm getting back into shape," said Major after a Wizards practice. "I got here a few days early just to get my wind. I've been lifting weights, running, eating right and I'm feeling really good. My heart murmur is gone, the doctor checked it out and it's completely gone. That was a blessing to hear that so now I'm ready to roll."

Renaldo Major received a GATORADE Call-Up from the Warriors in 2007.
Jeffrey Bottari/NBAE/Getty

From a team standpoint, Major's return to form will be a huge boost for the Wizards as they seek their third playoff appearance in as many seasons. Dakota also returns All-Star forward Quemont Greer and point guard Maurice Baker from the 2006-07 team that won the NBA D-League title in a dramatic overtime win over the Colorado 14ers. Major has high expectations for the Wizards, who are used to experiencing success dating back to their days in the CBA.

"We are going to be pretty good this year," said Major. "In Dakota they set high standards. They always have a good team no matter who the players are, it's the system they run, and it's a credit to the coaches and general managers that they have had. Karen and Steve (McCormick) are great owners, they know what type of people to bring in. As far as our team, the last three practices have had great opportunity, the rookies are learning, but everyone is humble and wants to get better. I'm expecting a great season from us."

Major was one of the NBA D-League's top NBA prospects after 2006-07, but knows that he now has to prove himself all over again after missing so much time. He feels that the best solution is to just play as hard as he can and let things take care of themselves. If he can approach his 2006-07 numbers of 18.2 points, 5.4 rebounds and 1.5 steals than he should be on the list of potential GATORADE Call-Ups again.

"I just leave it all in God's hands, I know I can play at the level if given the opportunity but I'm just going to go out and play every game just like I did back in 2006-07 in the D-League," said Major. "I never looked for a call-up or for a big overseas contract, I just go out and play and let the chips fall where they may. I don't try to really set goals, I just try to play as hard as I can and get the most out of myself and help out my team as much as I can."

Whatever the outcome for his team and for himself this season, Renaldo Major is just thankful to be on the basketball court again with the Dakota Wizards.

"The fans and the kids wanted me to come back, and I'm happy to be back in Dakota. I'm just happy to be playing basketball again. Like I said I feel blessed, God is amazing, I thank him everyday for giving me the chance to play basketball and just to be alive and healthy."