Cholla, UA star awes NBA fans, transplant survivors

2011-08-10T00:00:00Z Cholla, UA star awes NBA fans, transplant survivors Arizona Daily Star
August 10, 2011 12:00 am

In celebration of Arizona's centennial, the Star will feature our picks for the 100 best athletes, moments and teams. Throughout the summer, we will showcase our list - with the first 90 in no particular order. Later this month, Greg Hansen will choose his top 10, with a column on each.

Sean Elliott

Achievement

In Tucson, Sean Elliott is basketball's favorite son. He's the local kid from Cholla High School who turned into the college player of the year at Arizona and went on to a 12-year NBA career.

In San Antonio, Elliott is the classy, driven and humorous former forward for the Spurs sometimes known as "Ninja" (for his defensive intensity, slashing ability and Halloween costumes). He's the guy who sank the "Memorial Day Miracle" - an improbable off-balance three-pointer in the Western Conference Finals that helped propel San Antonio to its 1999 NBA title.

But Elliott also is an inspiration to those suffering from kidney disease. He returned from a 1999 kidney transplant to play part of the next season and the 2000-2001 season before he retired.

Yet the best example of Elliott's fortitude probably was not that he came back from the transplant - he credits the kidney donation of his brother, Noel, largely for that - but that he played at a high level for six years with worsening symptoms. Diagnosed in 1993, Elliott began treatments with medication but still became an All-Star in 1993 and 1996. Finally, toward the end of the lockout-shorted 1998-99 season, Elliott was told to prepare for a transplant and kept it a secret. He started all 50 games and averaged 30.2 minutes.

"I had a responsibility to those guys on the team, to the people who come to watch the games and to the coaching staff not to bring my problems to the court," Elliott told NBA.com.

After surgery in August 1999, Elliott did TV work and rehabilitated. He returned just seven months later, on March 14, 2000, against Atlanta, slamming the ball with authority in the third quarter.

"Who thought Noel Elliott's kidney could dunk like that?" wrote Buck Harvey of the San Antonio Express-News.

Elliott played a full season in 2000-01 but averaged just 23 minutes and told the Star that "some of my fire was gone." He retired that summer and has become a regular Spurs broadcaster.

"I tell people I have the best job in the league," Elliott said to the Star in 2010. "I get to watch a great team with great guys, no knuckleheads, and Pop (coach Gregg Popovich) treats me like I'm one of his kids. I can't complain at all."

Hometown; current age

Tucson; 43

He said it

"People throw out 'hero' so loosely. Without my brother (Noel), I'm not able to be the first NBA player to come back (from a major organ transplant). I'm not able to continue my career. I don't know what happens to me." - Elliott, at his 2010 Arizona Sports Hall of Fame induction in Phoenix

Bruce Pascoe

On StarNet: See the archive at: azstarnet.com/sportscentennial

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