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Adam Morrison, 22, is an NBA star that also has type 1 diabetes. He does not, however, have a horror story about his type 1 diagnosis that makes his ascension to NBA stardom seem like an “in-your-face” to an endocrinologist’s pessimistic predictions.
His story does not rival the aspiring rock star or Olympic gymnast with type 1 who was told by their doom-and-gloom diagnosing physician, “You’ll never be a rock star/Olympic gymnast because of your type 1 diabetes!”
On the contrary, eight years ago, Morrison’s endocrinologist—Dr. Ken Cathcart of Northside Internal Medicine in Spokane, Washington—told Morrison at diagnosis that “everything was going to be alright.”
“For me, I was blessed with [Dr. Cathcart] who, from day one, said I can do whatever I wanted to as long as I take care of myself,” says Morrison in a telephone interview with Diabetes Health. “From the start, he let me know that if I took care of myself, I could play basketball. He never said, ‘You have to place limitations on yourself.’ That positive reinforcement let me know that everything was going to be alright. I still have him as my endocrinologist today.”
Learning a New Type of Discipline
Morrison was 14 at the time of his diagnosis, and his sites were firmly set on a future at the NCAA and pro basketball level. Despite being more disciplined than your typical 14 year old, Morrison admits that being told that he had type 1 was still overwhelming.
“You don’t know the whole spectrum of diabetes when you are told that you have it,” he says. “Obviously, I was worried about a lot of things. You hear the horror stories about what can happen if you don’t take care of your diabetes. Being as young as I was, that can put a lot of fear into you.”
If anything, being diagnosed with type 1 afforded Morrison the opportunity to become even more disciplined in his pursuit of the NBA.
“I just looked at diabetes as being a part of me, and it didn’t really give me doubt about whether I can accomplish my goals.”
The discipline Morrison has acquired since being diagnosed has taught him about proper diet and rest. This has translated, he says, into his being able to maintain good health.
“I try to eat the same meals and make sure I know what’s going in to my body,” he says. “And having diabetes helps me to make sure I get my rest, because if I don’t, it’s going to affect my game plan and how I perform on the court.”
Since being diagnosed just before high school, Morrison says he has pretty much figured out what does and does not work for him and his diabetes. He still admits, however, that there are learning curves.
“You learn stuff about your own body as you get older and mature. It’s an ongoing process if you want to make sure you are doing the right thing. At first, it was pretty easy to control my numbers, but as I get older and my metabolism slows down a little bit, it becomes a little bit harder. I’ve squared things away though when it comes to having the right numbers.”
Making the Transition From College to Pros
Morrison had a stellar, three-year collegiate run while at Gonzaga University, and became a cultural icon of sorts with his trademark long hair, throwback mustache and on-the-court intensity. He was a finalist for the Naismith and the Wooden Award, and was named Co-Player of the Year with Duke University’s J.J. Redick by the United States Basketball Writers Association. He also won the 2006 Chevrolet Player of the Year award. This translated into Morrison being chosen third overall in the 2006 NBA Draft by the Charlotte Bobcats. In his November 1, 2006 NBA debut, he scored 14 points, grabbed three rebounds and added two assists against the Indiana Pacers.
Morrison has taken the stress of his transition from college to the NBA in stride and notes that it has not had too much of an effect on his diabetes.
“I think the overall travel hours make it difficult to square away your meals and make sure you get enough rest,” says Morrison. “Being at this level, though, I’m lucky enough to have great trainers and almost unlimited resources as far as having nutritionists and people helping you out. The franchise sees you as an investment, so they are going to do whatever it takes to make sure you are alright.”
Morrison and his teammates fly on a private plane, but he says there are still security checkpoints. His says he never encounters problems with getting his diabetes supplies on board.
“I sometimes get a few questions about the needles, but once you say the word ‘diabetic’ they pretty much understand. I haven’t had too many problems, which I’m lucky for.”
He says, just in case he needs it, he still carries a letter from Dr. Cathcart from back in Spokane.
A typical game day for Morrison is as follows:
8:45 a.m. Wake up, test and bolus accordingly
9 a.m. “I eat a balanced breakfast—usually cereal and toast. Something where I know the exact number of carbs and how my body reacts to it.”
Mid-morning: Shoot around with teammates
Lunch: Test and bolus accordingly. “Then I’ll eat a foot-long sub sandwich with a lot of meat. Just something that will fill me up without a lot of carbs.”
4:45 p.m: Arrive at the arena. “They’ll have my meal ready for me. I always eat steak and a baked potato before the game.”
Game Time (7 p.m.): Once the game starts, Morrison tests and makes sure he has a suitable BG range.
“I like to have it between 120 and 180 mg/dl. I feel comfortable at that range.”
His trainer makes sure the bench area is stocked with orange juice, apple juice and glucose tabs, as well as Morrison’s meter and insulin. Morrison wears a pump, but must detach before games.
Time Outs: “Pretty much every time out, I test my blood sugar and if I need to take a shot I do. If I need to eat something, I do. I just try to stay on top of it during the games. I’ll usually test up to seven times during a game.”
Halftime: “Throughout the game, my blood sugar usually rises a little bit because of adrenaline. At halftime, I make sure I get it between 120 and 180 mg/dl.”
After the Game: “I try to get my blood sugar to around 120 mg/dl.”
For both his basal and bolus needs, Morrison uses Humalog in his pump.
Going Low During Games
Since arriving on the national scene and having what seems like every sporting news vehicle make his diabetes an issue, Morrison has never gone low during a game. Back in his more anonymous days, however, he did have a bad low in the final game as a high school player.
“I had a low during a state championship my senior year of high school,” he says. “I was sick all week during the tournament and I think it was a thing where my body just sort of gave out. Luckily, it was within the last five minutes of the game and I played through it, which I don’t recommend anybody do.”
The Same Type 1 as Everyone
Morrison stresses that although he may be a celebrity athlete, he faces the same day-to-day struggles as everyone else with diabetes.
“ I need to take my medication, watch what I eat and test my blood sugar regularly to try and keep it within a healthy range and avoid complications, just like every other diabetic.”
Morrison’s advice to other diabetics is to simply make sure you are taking care of yourself.
“A lot of the stuff that happens to type 1s is preventable. I know it’s tough, but if you stay on top of it, you can live a long and successful life.”
A New Relationship with LifeScan
Morrison uses a OneTouch Ultra2 to test his blood sugar.
“Personally, I like it a lot because it gives you a result in just five seconds and allows you to tag specific test results as before-meal or after-meal tests. Then, you can look at your individual results and averages to see the impact of your food choices on your blood sugar.”
Adam recently forged a partnership with LifeScan because, as he puts it, “They share a similar vision to create a world without limits for people with diabetes.”
In addition, Morrison and LifeScan have developed a web site (www.diabetesandfood.com). The Web site was developed because, according to Morrison, it’s important for everyone with diabetes to make good choices about what they eat so they can better understand how their choices impact their blood sugar levels.
“This web site is a great place to get information about this, as well as about my story.”
Any aspiring basketball player who has type 1 diabetes by now probably knows who Adam Morrison is. But before Morrison arrived on the scene, every aspiring basketball player who had type 1 knew about Chris Dudley—Morrison included.
“I’ve gotten to speak with Chris quite a bit in the past and he always told me, ‘Make sure you’re taking care of yourself and you’re doing the right things on and off the court.’ He says the biggest thing is to try and stay on your routine as much as possible.”
Dudley—who also has type 1 and played for 16 seasons in the NBA—got to know Morrison when Morrison was in college.
“Once I got to college and got to meet him, he became a big inspiration,” says Morrison. “There was a guy that went through the same process that I was going through, and he obviously did it at a high level. His example helped me to clear up some of the myths and questions I had about what it was going to be like playing basketball with diabetes.”
Adam Morrison Profile
NBA Team: Charlotte Bobcats
Years Pro: Rookie
Born: July 19, 1984 (Glendive, Montana)
College: Gonzaga University
NBA Entry: Drafted by Charlotte with the third overall pick in the 2006 NBA Draft
Stats At Gonzaga University:
See also the press release “AACE Recognizes NBA Rookie Adam Morrison for Raising Diabetes Awareness”.