Brian Bell displays the gold medal he won helping the US men’s wheelchair basketball team win the championship in Tokyo. It weighs 1.2 pounds and contains only 1.2% gold. The rest of the coin is made from recycled electronics. Memories of bringing gold back to Tokyo, however, are more precious than any metal.
Brian cherishes other memories of the Paralympic Games, including pieces of string he cut from the net after the championship game and a basketball signed by his teammates. Brian and his fellow players spent weeks training at the US Olympic and Paralympic Training Center in Colorado Springs. They left Colorado Springs on August 17 for their 11-hour flight to Tokyo.
Upon their arrival, Brian found the Japanese people receptive to international athletes, despite the health emergency they faced. There would be no sightseeing tours for the athletes as they were limited to the Olympic Village bubble. Buses took them to the empty arenas, where they faced the best wheelchair teams in the world.
Their first tournament game was against a tough opponent Germany, but Brian scored 20 points and took 11 rebounds. “Anyone on our team can do it,” he said modestly. Bell, however, scored three late baskets and provided an assist as the United States rallied to win 58-55. Offensive skills aside, Brian is one of the team’s best defensemen, blocking shots, gathering rebounds and stealing interceptions.
Then an easy 65-41 win over Iran. In their third game, the United States lost 64-63 to Great Britain, as their last second basket was canceled. On fire, they beat Australia 66-38. They easily beat Algeria and Turkey before beating Spain 66-52. Good sportsmanship was in the spotlight, with a Spanish player applauding an American basket. Brian explained that most Paralympians know each other from competing on professional teams.
The championship match pitted the United States against Japan. Brian described Japan as the “Cinderella” team of the tournament, after upsetting Great Britain. They fought a formidable battle against the Americans, leading late in the game. Brian had his usual excellent all-around game and scored a key basket on a quick break.
After beating Japan 64-60, the US teammates exchanged tearful and smiling hugs. “It was amazing to win again despite all of the adversity,” said Brian, surpassing the experience of winning gold in Rio four years ago.
In between matches, the United States team had practiced, watched opponent videos, and watched the United States women’s wheelchair matches on television. They made up for the downtime by playing video games and cards. They had no curfew but withdrew at 10 p.m.
They slept on reinforced cardboard beds. They had adjustable foam mattresses of adequate length, but Brian said, “They weren’t the best for sleeping.” The village served a variety of Asian dishes, as well as American, Indian and vegan dishes.
The Olympic Village had its comforts, but Brian and his family made a great sacrifice to win the gold medal. Brian, who is married to Diane Burdett, a Forest Park native and whose in-laws (Robert and Kathleen Burdett) still live here, has been separated from his wife and their five children for three months. They did, however, find the time to celebrate their 10th wedding anniversary. Brian acknowledges that Diane’s support “gives me the opportunity to play basketball.
At the end of their professional contract in Germany in May 2022, the Bell family will return to the United States. They seek to settle in an affordable place with a “neutral climate”. After obtaining his MBA, Brian will find a “real” job (he hopes in Human Relations). He hasn’t given up on his Paralympic dream, however, and looks forward to winning another gold in Paris.