On July 26, 1981, life changed drastically for promising Indiana University basketball player Landon Turner. Turner, who along with future NBA Hall-of-Famer Isiah Thomas, helped guide Indiana to the NCAA title in 1991, lost control of his vehicle and crashed. The accident left him paralyzed from the chest down. Turner, a 6-foot-10 freak of an athlete, was headed to a promising NBA career before the tragedy struck. IU coach Bobby Knight still managed to help Turner live his NBA dream.
Landon Turner’s career at Indiana
Landon Turner didn’t get off to a great start when he began his college basketball career at Indiana. He was in coach Bobby Knight’s doghouse when he was among several players who were caught smoking marijuana, according to assemblycall.com. Three players were dismissed from the team, while Turner was placed on probation.
He didn’t have a major role with the team early on either as he averaged 55 points and 3.4 rebounds per game during the 1978-79 season as the team made the NIT. As a sophomore, Turner bumped up his scoring average to 7.4 points per game and added 4.4 rebounds, but Knight thought he wasn’t always giving his all both on the court and in the classroom. “Coach thought I could be the best player ever at IU, so when I didn’t play like it, he just went off,” Turner told IndianaHQ.com. “He tried to get me to quit. He told me I‘d have a better chance of playing in the NBA than for him. I told him I wasn’t a quitter.”
In Turner’s junior year, he showed signs of breaking out, but was inconsistent. He had 23 points against Notre Dame and Baylor, but when Big Ten play rolled around, Turner struggled and Knight got on him. Turner got the message loud and clear and stepped up his game and was a major part of the Hoosiers winning the NCAA Championship. “Turner has made great strides in that it upsets him to make mistakes,” Knight was quoted in assembly.call.com. “When it upsets a player to make mistakes, he’s come a long way toward becoming a better player.”
Turner’s automobile accident
Landon Turner had an NBA career in front of him, but those hopes were crushed when he crashed his car in July of 1981 and was paralyzed from the chest down. Tuner’s growth in three years with the Indiana Hoosiers was immense. He had drawn comparisons to Los Angeles Lakers star James Worthy.
In a 2010 ESPN article, Turner’s college teammate Isiah Thomas spoke of those Worthy comparisons. “Landon was the type of athlete that Worthy was. He (Turner) had all the makings of being a great power forward. I will never forget walking into the hospital room and just seeing him wired up to all these machines. They had this brace on his neck. I just remember how massively big he looked lying there.”
After the accident and a strenuous rehabilitation stint, Turner found himself back in basketball. Although it wasn’t the NBA, he was still able to make his way back on the court, with the help of a wheelchair. Turner became a member of the Indiana Pacers Wheelchair Basketball Team.
Bobby Knight’s gesture and relationship with Turner
Landon Turner readily admits he wasn’t a huge fan of Bobby Knight at first.
“There was a time when I really didn’t care for him too much,” Turner told Sports Illustrated. “I just wanted to get the heck out of Indiana University and go on with my life. But once I was hurting and I saw a side of him that I’d never seen before, I developed a love for him.”
Right before the NBA draft in 1982, Knight got together with Red Auerbach, the legendary coach and president of the Boston Celtics. Knight knew that if there was no accident, Turner would be on an NBA team. With their final pick in the 1982 NBA draft, the Celtics selected Turner.
“It was a complete surprise,” Turner told ESPN. “It was close to my heart when they drafted me. “Red [Auerbach] did send me a couple championship watches — from ’84 and ’86 — which was very nice. I have them to this day. They are in my safe right now.” Knight also helped create the Landon Turner Trust Fund to help pay medical expenses. “I really was surprised,” Turner told Sports Illustrated. “But I guess with Coach Knight leading the pack, everything is possible.”