Frenchman's Chicago Bulls dreams come true
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From his home in northern France to a spot on the Chicago Wheelchair Bulls, Benjamin Chevillon has managed a long journey and though it's been hard, he’s not about to quit.
Benjamin Chevillon is living his dream.
The 24-year-old Frenchman is in Houston, Texas, for this weekend’s All-Star Game, which brings together the best players in the NBA, and he’s bumping into basketball legends. So far, he’s exchanged a few words and got a photograph with Charles Barkley of the "Dream Team 92" and Dikembe Muntombo, one of the best defenders in NBA history.
But Chevillon is not just there as a spectator. A Chicago Wheelchair Bulls player, he was also selected to participate in the "All-Star" in the wheelchair basketball section. "I did not believe it. It was just so unexpected. I had no idea the coaches would vote for me. But they appreciated my efforts over the past few months and my growing involvement with my team,” he said in a phone interview with FRANCE 24 from Houston.
‘A tremendous honour’
While the All Star Game, featuring Tony Parker, Joakim Noah, LeBron James and Kobe Bryant takes place on Sunday, Chevillon’s game kicks off on Thursday evening: "It’s a tremendous honour. Although it’s wheelchair basketball, to be associated with the geniuses of basketball is just incredible. Six months ago, when I arrived in the US, I did not think for a minute that this would be possible."
Chevillon moved to the US in September from his native France. Originally from Nord-Pas-de-Calais in northern France, he played with the local Cambrai team. After landing in the US, he managed to hook up with the Chicago Bulls by contacting their coach via Facebook.
"He told me that the Bulls would be recruiting for the 2012-2013 season and that if I wanted to come for a test I was welcome. So I came to Chicago in March for a week of tests. A few weeks later, I received an email confirming his interest,” said the basketball player.
Contemplating another year
Just like Michael “Air” Jordan, the greatest basketball player of all time, or Joakim Noah, who has been with the Bulls since 2007, Chevillon proudly wears the team’s jersey with the mythical bull's head. Even though he’s not playing with the pros and he’s in the handicapped section, Chevillon says he does not feel sidelined.
Unlike in France, where the wheelchair basketball is more hidden, in the US, handicapped sports is a different universe. "The difference lies in the media coverage. It’s extensively covered here, especially by the regional media. What most impressed me is the fact that you can play wheelchair basketball from the age of five. Chicago Wheelchair Bulls have two teams for youngsters. "
Strengthened by this experience, the athlete, who has been a paraplegic since the age of five after suffering from leukemia, wants to change attitudes in France and develop wheelchair basketball. For him, sports has helped him overcome his disability:
"When I started in 2005, I finally realised that I was not alone in a wheelchair, or disabled, and there were many in much more difficult situations than me. I said, 'if they can do it without complaining, so why not me?’” he recounts.
Chevillon has so far signed a one-year contract with the Chicago Bulls. Even if he does not pay him a salary - the Frenchman is living off his savings – he does not rule out staying on another year. "I’ll do an update at the end of the season. If a sporting or financial opportunity arises - why not?
But I don’t think the important meetings are happening at the moment.” Right now, with Thursday’s All Star wheelchair basketball match and the qualifiers and playoffs, there are games to be played.