University of Illinois

Tossing Adversity Aside, Lincoln Park Teenager Excels Playing Wheelchair Basketball

NBCUniversal, Inc.

As a young boy growing up on Chicago's north side, Shawn Sloan was passionate about video games. Sports? He didn't find them all that interesting, and when he did try playing, it never felt right.

"When I would just be playing tag and stuff at recess, I’d just feel like I’m not like everybody else," said Sloan. "I’d feel like I’m the different person."

Sloan was diagnosed with Cerebral palsy when he was three years-old. Three different surgeries on his legs followed while he grew up in Lincoln Park. But from the last of those surgeries, when he was 10 years-old, came a deep connection to wheelchair basketball.

"I was in the hospital after a surgery, and a coach came up, and he asked me did I want to play," Sloan remembers. "And so I instantly fell in love when I was pushing around."

Sloan took up the game and started achieving huge success. A prep National Wheelchair Basketball Association championship in 2016. An IHSA state wheelchair basketball title in 2019. To say the game made a profound impact on his life would be an understatement.

"It’s hard to even put in words," said Sloan. "When I play, I feel like that’s my safe place, because I know whatever’s going on at school, that could be a problem. Whatever’s going on at home, that could be a problem. But whenever I’m on the court, that’s when I feel most at home."

Now 18 and a recent graduate of Disney II Magnet High School, Sloan is ready to continue his playing career in college. He's been recruited to play for the University of Illinois wheelchair basketball team, which he'll join this fall.

"Most people don’t get this opportunity," he said. "From Chicago, most people don’t make it out like that. So I feel like I can do whatever I can to make myself big at Illinois, and in the future."

As for that future, he's already eyeing a career that keeps him around basketball. He'd like to one day be an analyst for NBA games. He was inspired, in part, by meeting commentators Charles Barkley and Shaquille O'Neal at NBA All-Star Weekend last February in Chicago.

"Seeing what they do, it was something that was amazing," Sloan said. "I want to be like that."

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