No one should die at 25 years old. Leaving this world at such a young age, when many are just beginning to discover life, is a terrible injustice. This is what has happened to caleb swanigan, already a former basketball player at the time of his death, but whose sudden departure has shocked an NBA that had just celebrated its end-of-year party. About his death, not many details have emerged, and they are probably not necessary. It has been reported that they have been “natural causes”, whatever that means in a quarter-century young body, and the family has asked for privacy. Speculating, therefore, only adds more damage to the trauma.
As a player, Swanigan was a college basketball legend and NBA bench bottom. One story of many. The center, 2.06 tall, played two seasons in the prestigious Purdue team, where he collected some individual awards and averaged a not inconsiderable 14.4 points and 10.4 rebounds per game. Figures that opened the world of professional basketball to him, being chosen in the 26th position of the 2017 NBA draft by the Portland Trail Blazers.
The level jump proved too much for him. As for so many, on the other hand. Until then, one more story. The elite is reserved for a few and, after two seasons between Portland and Sacramento, without making much noise, decided not to play anymore when, after the pandemic, the NBA organized a bubble in Orlando to end the competition, which had been interrupted like all our lives in March 2020. The player cited “personal reasons” for not joining the rest of the Blazers. No one asked much, because deep down he was still a residual player.
The fate of those who, for whatever reason, cannot find a place in the NBA is usually what, from their perspective, they call international basketball. Europe for the best, Asia for those who want money but no effort, and minor leagues scattered around the world for the rest. When two seasons in the NBA appear on your resume, it’s hard to run out of offers. Swaningan, however, was never heard of. Not until last May, when some photos of him went viral, visibly overweight, that some accounts that follow basketball used to make jokes.
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“How can you go from being like this to being like this in a year?” Said the text that accompanied two images of “Biggie”, as he was nicknamed. In one, in top form, in his Blazers uniform. In the other, taken on the street, with his state of health at that time. Damian Lillard, star of the Portland team and one of the best players in the League without question, jumped to defend his former teammate, leaving a reflection that, after the fatal outcome, resonates even louder. “If you’re going to post this shit with a genuine concern, that’s fine. But don’t ask ‘how can someone go from ‘this to this’.. He clearly has problems. You do not know why you are going through such a drastic change. If you’re going to support him, do it. But don’t ask shit when he’s obviously a big person by nature and he’s on a dark path,” Dame replied.
Lillard’s words now, of course, sound like premonition, when they are simply common sense. A reminder so basic that it seems incredible that we forget so often: everyone, absolutely everyone, is going through something. More or less serious. That can be evidenced from the outside or that goes unnoticed at first glance. Health problems, economic difficulties, fears, complexes, concerns… A completely universal experience, which, however, on many occasions, when relating to the world around us, we overlook. Especially in a frivolous and dehumanized environment like professional sports.
A homeless and overweight childhood
Gregg Doyel writes in the Indianapolis Star that saying that Swanigan was poor during his childhood would be a positive thing about the conditions in which he was living. “He grew up penniless, homeless, living for a while under a bridge in Utah. None of his five siblings graduated from high school. Three ended up facing criminal charges. Over time, Biggie would be the fourth – for possession of marijuana, “he says.
Also, he was overweight. A condition with which he battled until the end of his days. The poverty in which he grew up involved, of course, insufficient and low-quality food. so much that at the age of 13 he weighed about 160 kilos. He was also very tall, of course, which helped him find a way in basketball. Of course, in a constant battle with the scale, which he definitely lost the day he left the baskets.
At times, Swanigan’s story seemed like something out of a Hollywood movie. That of the homeless boy who, through effort, overcame all adversity and came to fulfill a recurring childhood dream, such as playing in the NBA. Along the way, moreover, got a college degree, something that says a lot about his personality. Because despite the fact that he only played two years at Purdue, he returned a third, already enrolled in the Blazers, to finish his studies. He did, in short, everything he was supposed to do. But of course, reality is usually always more complex and, above all, cruel. We all went through something and his, unfortunately, seems to have been stronger than his good will.
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Caleb Swanigan’s tragedy reminds us that we are all going through something