A man from Lorette has become the first wheelchair basketball athlete inducted into the Canadian Basketball Hall of Fame. 

47-year-old Joey Johnson credits his parents for his success because they helped him find a way to still be an athlete after a devastating hip disease took away able-bodied sports when he was eight years old. 

“They went out and searched high and low, and found adaptive sports, para sports, as they're called now, and they found a kids program,” he says. “So, I started going out to that and wheelchair basketball was one of the sports that I found. And ironically enough, when I first started, because I was so young and there wasn’t a junior program, I didn't like wheelchair basketball. I couldn't get the ball up to the hoop, I was playing with a bunch of older people, but as I grew and got stronger, I got a little bit better with the game and had some success.” 

Johnson was the first wheelchair basketball athlete inducted into the Manitoba Basketball Hall of Fame 10 years ago, followed by an induction into the Manitoba Sports Hall of Fame in 2016, and then the Canadian Paralympic Hall of Fame in 2019. 

This month, Johnson became the first wheelchair basketball athlete inducted into the Canadian Basketball Hall of Fame. 

“To be the first ever to do something, it is such an honor and a privilege and something that I hold in high regard,” he says. “And hopefully, the way I view it is, hopefully I'm opening doors and paving a path for future generations.” 

Johnson was always interested in sports, starting to play hockey at a very young age. When able-bodied sports were no longer an option for him, Johnson worked hard to strengthen his upper body which allowed him to experience success as a wheelchair athlete. 

“The one analogy I always use is, in the able-bodied game of basketball, when you're shooting short, the coach always tells you to put more leg into it. When you're sitting in a wheelchair, that's very difficult to do. So, if you want to shoot further, you have to put more arm into it. But then you’ve also got to use your arms as your feet so that they're propelling you around the court. So, your upper body is literally doing everything for you. It does take a lot of strength and years of training to master the technique, to be able to shoot a ball from a chair, to push the chair and dribble the ball at the same time.” 

While Johnson has retired from pro-sports as an athlete, he continues to be very involved in wheelchair basketball. 

“I’m currently the executive director for the Manitoba Wheelchair Sports Association, so I'm trying to give back great programming for people with disabilities here in the province of Manitoba. And I'm also currently the Co-coach for the British men's wheelchair basketball team. We just finished the World Championships in Dubai last month and I'm heading back over there this Sunday for the European Championships in Rotterdam.” 

Even though Johnson is spending a lot of time coaching overseas, he continues to make time to grow the sport in Manitoba. 

“The nice thing about wheelchair basketball here in Canada, it’s a fully integrated sport. So that's something that helped me growing up when able-bodied sport was taken away from me. I was given this opportunity to play wheelchair basketball, but I didn't have to go about it alone. So, I actually brought my brother and my sister and a bunch of friends. They jumped in chairs and the chair is the great equalizer. We're all sitting in the chair playing sport together. So, if there's anyone out there that knows of someone who has a lower limb impairment of some sort, they're more than welcome to come out. You can contact me at Manitoba Wheelchair Sports and get everyone out there playing. Be active.” 

Johnson puts this time and energy into the sport because of the positive impact it has had on his own life. 

“Finding para-sport, I would say, literally saved me, especially from the mental health side of things,” he says. “It gave me that freedom, that joy, that opportunity to express myself through my athletic abilities.” 

You can find more information on wheelchair sports by contacting the Manitoba Wheelchair Sport Association via email office@mwsa.ca or by phoning (204) 925-5790.