The 3-Pointer Felt Across the World

By John Denton
Feb. 14, 2014

ORLANDO – Sometimes a confluence of random events can produce such mind-boggling results that there are no explanations other than to simply credit sheer fate or some kind of higher power.

How else to explain a light-hearted, shooting contest during the timeout of an NBA game in Orlando potentially saving the life of a child thousands of miles away in Ethiopia? How else to explain a dentist who hadn’t touched a basketball in years other than a 15-minute practice session at his kid’s school burying a 24-foot 3-pointer as the horn sounded? How else to explain the kismet from last Friday night that nearly brought Dr. William Dunn to his knees in utter disbelief?

This is the kind of story that’s so heart-warming and touching that you might want to keep a box of tissues nearby. This is the kind of story that is so syrupy-sweet it might give you cavities just reading along. And it’s the kind of story that might already qualify as the feel-good moment of the NBA season regardless of what happens the rest of the way.

Within an hour of talking to his wife, Jeanie, last Friday about their desires to adopt a second Ethiopian-born child and being informed of the need for $11,000, Dr. William Dunn was offered by the Magic a chance to win $10,000 in a contest. All he had to do was make a layup, a free throw and a 3-pointer in 24 seconds during a break in the Magic-Thunder game at the Amway Center. What are the odds, Dunn thought to himself, that those two occurrences would come on the same day? Deep down, he felt the powers of fate already working in his favor before he even stepped on the Magic’s parquet floor.

Sure enough, Dunn sunk the layup, struggled with his free throw form with two misses before finally connecting and then turned and fired from the 3-point line as the buzzer was sounding. Dunn, a NAIA college basketball player 20 years earlier, hit nothing but net and strutted backward down the floor as the near-sellout crowd roared. Just like that, Dunn was the winner of $10,000 – something significant enough to excite even the most casual of sports fan. But knowing what the money would be used for – to bring a bit of joy and hope into the life of an orphan from a Third World country – just made the moment even more joyous and downright surreal.

“I get this phone call from the Magic, and I’m thinking, ‘Wow, this is kind of crazy.’ It just seemed like everything fell into place for this to happen and it was an act of God,’’ said Dunn, an Orlando-area dentist. “I made the 3-pointer, but God definitely helped with that free throw I couldn’t make.”

Added Dunn’s wife, Jeanie: “We’re still processing it because it’s so shocking and unbelievable. I don’t know if it has even sunk in for us yet.”

"GOD WANTS YOU OUT THERE ON THAT COURT”

Dunn, 39, was offered the opportunity to be in the contest because he beat the renewal date of March 5 for re-upping his Magic season tickets. Born and raised in Orlando, Dunn can remember going to Magic games since he was in ninth grade. His father, Bill, is an original Magic season-ticket holder and actually has No. 67 on the franchise’s priority list. And some of his memories of a game from the inaugural 1989 season recently came flooding back while watching FOX Sports Florida.

“The other night on TV they were showing “Magic Classics” and we were playing the Lakers that first year,” Dunn remembered. “At the end of the game they were scanning the arena and I see myself jumping up and down. The Magic have been huge parts of our lives for 25 years.”

Already the parents of four biological children, Dunn and his wife Jeanie made the decision to adopt a child three years ago. They ultimately welcomed Ethiopian-born Haben to their Lake Baldwin home following a year-long process. Haben, who recently turned 5 years old, was abandoned on the side of a road when he was 18 months old and recovered by missionaries in Ethiopia.

The Dunns made the decision to adopt outside of the United States because the process is less grueling and chances of receiving a child are significantly better. Also, their mission was to hopefully save a life because of some alarming statistics.

According to adoptionplace.org, six out of every 10 Americans have some personal experience with adoption and more than two million adoptions have taken place since 2000. In Ethiopia, one in 10 babies die before their first birthday and one in six die before turning five. Ethiopian women give birth to an average of six children and one in five women die during childbirth in large part because there is only one doctor for every 24,000 children.

“A lot of people wonder why we don’t adopt in the U.S., but one reason is there usually is a waiting list for adopting in the U.S. because there are more parents than orphans,” Will said. “And a lot of people adopt because they can’t get pregnant; that’s not our problem because we have four biological children. For us, this is more about saving someone. Haben literally would have not made it without being adopted.”

When the family recently began the process of adopting a second child, Dunn began preparing for the financial commitment to do so. In all, it takes about $35,000 to finalize an adoption of an Ethiopian child. Once a referral is given – meaning there is a match between the wishes of the parent and the needs of the child – there is an $11,000 initial payment to be made.

Knowing that a referral could come any day, Dunn worried about raising the money to begin the adoption process. As the owner of his own dental practice, Lake Baldwin Dental, Dunn has done well for a family that includes a 20-year-old daughter, 8-year-old twins, a 6-year-old girl and, of course, 5-year-old Haben. Still, $11,000 is a rather large chunk of change all at once.

“Owning my own business, we hadn’t had the greatest month and coming off the holidays, I said, ‘Jeanie, I don’t have (the $11,000). If we get the referral today, I don’t know where the money is going to come from,’” Dunn said. “I would have figured it out and we’re not poor, but from a cash standpoint I didn’t have $11,000 to write that check.”

And that’s where the Magic come into the picture. Dunn received a call last Friday morning from Magic ticket representative, Alexis Rosenberg, informing him of an opportunity for a season-ticket holder to shoot three shots and possibly win $10,000. Dunn said his thought process went something like this:

Could this truly be happening? I need $11,000 and the Magic are offering me a shot at $10,000. I’m a former college basketball player and I know I can do this! But on the other hand, I haven’t touched a basketball in four years and I don’t want to embarrass myself in front of 17,000 Magic fans. Maybe I should do it. Maybe I shouldn’t.

Following a short pep talk from his wife, it was decided that Dunn would be in the shooting contest. Not that it was an easy decision.

“I had originally told (the Magic’s Alexis Rosenberg) ‘no’ because I knew we were playing the Thunder and that it would be a packed house. I was like, ‘I don’t want to embarrass myself,’” said Dunn, pointing out that he had stopped playing pick-up basketball four years earlier because of the fear of finger or hand injuries impacting his work as a dentist. “My wife said, ‘Are you crazy? If you don’t do this, I’ll do it.’ She told me, ‘You need to get over this, man up and get out there and do it.’”

Said Jeanie: “At first, Will said, ‘I don’t think I can do it’ and I said, ‘Wait a minute, what are you talking about? This is the perfect opportunity.’ I told him, ‘God wants you out there on that court.’ And I thought there was a chance that Will could do this because God wants us to do this. This is too much of a coincidence for this not to happen.”

“AS SOON AS I LET IT GO, I THOUGHT IT WAS GOOD”

Prearranged dinner plans forced the Dunns to arrive at the Magic-Thunder game late, so much so that the group let Will out at the door so he could run into the Amway Center before parking. Magic reps in charge of coordinating the shooting contest were within minutes of finding a replacement because they couldn’t locate Will.

As it turns out, Dunn thinks arriving late – he was in the arena four minutes before walking out onto the court – might have helped calm his nerves.

“I was just so anxious about making it to the arena on time that it took away from my anxiety and the nervousness that I would have had about shooting the shots,” said Dunn, who got up a few shots in the gymnasium of his children’s school earlier on Friday. “If I would have gone on time for the game, sat in my seats and taken in the game, seen the sellout crowd and (super model) Kate Upton sitting right there (by the basket), I would have been a nervous wreck.”

Dunn looked calm and cool when he walked onto the floor in a plain gray T-shirt and jeans. Starting at the free throw line, he took one dribble and easily made the layup, but the free throws were another issue. His first try was short and the second one was long and he had to hurriedly chase down both rebounds himself. The third free throw was offline, but it fortunately rolled in.

Sprinting back to the arc with less than five seconds remaining, Dunn confidently stroked a 3-pointer that was on line the whole way and softly went through the net. With somewhat of a cocky scowl on his face, Dunn strutted backward down the floor and thrust his left fist into the air as the crowd cheered.

“The free throws obviously were a little shaky, but the three felt great. As soon as I let it go, I thought it was good,” Dunn said. “I wasn’t planning for the dramatic effect of having it come down to the wire, but I guess it played out pretty well.”

After receiving a hug from Jeanie, who watched from courtside, Will told the Amway Center crowd what his plans were for the money he had just won: “It’s going to pay for our adoption.”

Within 20 minutes of winning the contest, Dunn said that he had 70 text messages from friends and family who had learned about the accomplishment on Facebook and Twitter. Some even chided Dunn for having “pit stains” that became evident when he triumphantly raised his hand.

In the week since the contest, Will and Jeanie said they have caught themselves sitting around wondering if what actually happened to them was really real. The sheer odds of needing $11,000 and getting a chance at $10,000 in the same day have to be off the charts.

For his part, Will has one regret about the entire incident.

“I wish I would have held my finger up to God because I definitely think He had something to do with this,” he said, still shaking his head in disbelief.

HIS SMILE COULD LIGHT UP THE ROOM

The Dunns began the adoption process for Haben in May of 2010 and they saw a picture of the then-2-year-old boy for the first time in November of that year. In January of 2011, Will and Jeanie travelled to Ethiopia for an initial meet-and-greet with the child. The process didn’t become finalized for another two months, but the Dunns repeatedly sent care packages and pictures to the orphanage where Haben was living.

Haben was welcomed home with a party at the airport and he has since blended in well with the family, Jeanie reports. He initially needed some extra attention from his new mom and Jeanie would often tote him around the house in a carrying device for her back. And she would chuckle at times when she would see Haben bringing the device to her.

“It was such an amazing transition. The other kids just loved on him and welcomed him with zero problems,” said Jeanie, who built the website HeartsforHaben.com to tell her new son’s story. “His personality is super chill. He came here less spoiled than our American-born children that we hang toys in their face as soon as they are born. Haben is delightful. His smile could light up a room.”

Jeanie admitted to “feeling the calling” to adopt once again so that Haben, who is enrolled in Pre-K at St. Margaret Mary School in Orlando, could have a sibling with a similar background. Will, who joked that he was getting too old for adoption and had too much gray hair, said the family turned in the papers in August for what they hope will be a girl from the ages of one to four. When-and-if a referral comes – hopefully in the coming weeks, Will said the family will already have the $10,000 to put toward the initial payment of $11,000.

Will still shakes his head and is in disbelief over how a confluence of random events has blessed him and his family. Remarkably, he will someday be able to save the life of a needy child because he was able to make three shots during a break in an NBA game. ‘Mind-blowing,’ he said. And he’s also eager to give credit to a much higher power.

“It’s a miracle, really, just a miracle,” he said. “I don’t know how else to describe everything that happened for us.”