(THIS MEMOIR WAS WRITTEN IN (2021) FOR THE SBS EMERGING WRITERS' COMPETITION ON THE TOPIC OF 'BETWEEN TWO WORLDS': STORIES FROM A DIVERSE AUSTRALIA)
• CHAPTER I:
'Inspiration is my Motivation'
October 17th, 2015:
It felt like I was getting the warmest hug yet knowing the person I was hugging had a knife behind their back -- oh, that's just me reminiscing on my emotions when I left my family at the terminal gate upon departing from
America to Australia.
To leave my family at the terminal gate destroyed my heart but yet left me highly motivated by the support they have given me to chase my dream of becoming a professional basketball player in Melbourne, Australia.
My name is Michael Jamar Fortune and inspiration is my motivation. Like Forrest Gump mama said "life was like a box of chocolates. You never know what you're gonna get." and my life fits the prescription like over the counter medicine. From the day I was born my purpose was to bring people together. You wonder, "how do you know your purpose at birth?" the answer is simple, reflection.
December 26th, 1990:
At 9:01 PM an inspiration was born at the Women and Children's hospital in Charleston, West Virginia. My birth reconstructed the relationship between my mother (who just celebrated her 15th birthday ten days prior to giving birth) and my grandmother who was striving to become a RN in Medical School.
Being raised by those two women has given me the strength of where I am today. Never knowing my father and growing up in poverty I was faced with daily struggle and challenges. However, with the toughness from my mother and the nurture from my grandmother it was the perfect blend to compensate for the lack of not having a male figure in my life.
My entire life has been dedicated to basketball.
In 1993, Capital High became the first school in West Virginia to have a day care service for students who had children which allowed me to attend while my mother was in school.
Yearly, Capital High does what they call a sports pep rally where they introduce the athletic teams. This year in particular the school allowed me to be introduced with the basketball team. (This is my mothers truth I don't actually remember this) However, I was 3 years old and the team had a tikes basketball hoop for me to shoot on in front of the entire school. Truth be told I made 27 shots in a row to the point that the students in the bleachers were counting each shot that I made in unison..10, 11, 12 they yelled! Hearing childhood stories from my mother and others about myself, reflecting back on all that I've accomplished is why I am humbled to know the life that I live has been blessed from the very beginning.
The flight was 23 hours and 55 minutes and it was only the second time I've flown via airplane. Traveling from the Northern Hemisphere to embark on a new life in the Southern Hemisphere my emotions were scattered but I live by the saying "You have to risk it to get the biscuit" and I've always been one to bet on myself because if you don't who else will?
I've never wanted to live my life with any regrets so with only $500 in my pocket, a working holiday visa and the help from my brother Dan Kusnyer I was ready to conquer the unknown in Melbourne.
• CHAPTER II:
'There are friends, there is family, and then there are friends that become family'
August 30th, 2009:
Dan and I met at Fork Union Military Academy.
It was an all boys military school in the middle of nowhere Virginia. We both attended FUMA to play basketball for the legendary Coach Fletcher Arritt. The school motto was "Body, Mind, and Spirit" the overall focus was to instil discipline into young boys whilst giving the opportunity to receive an athletic scholarship to play College Basketball.
Throughout all the challenges I endured at Fork Union it lead to the beauty of me receiving a full athletic scholarship to play Basketball at King University in Bristol, Tennessee for the legendary Coach George Pitts.
May 3rd, 2014:
No feeling can compare to walking across the stage to receive your diploma. Graduating with my Bachelor of Arts in Sports Management and Coaching from my beloved alma mater King University was a very proud moment. Being a black man in America and receiving a college degree is defying the odds of not being a statistic. However, what was suppose to be the proudest moment of my life was tainted a month prior preventing me from relishing in my graduation experience.
March 23rd, 2014:
My best friend Deshaun "Bam Bam"
Greer and I were enjoying ourselves at 'Club Battery' on a cold brisk Saturday night.
We were celebrating four years of playing college basketball and excited to become college graduates. The night was filled with laughter, positivity and discussion about our upcoming future. Deshaun was very adamant that night that I go pursue playing professional basketball overseas. I can hear his voice now; "Mike, bro go for it you can do it, we only live once so make the most of it."
I turn to go towards the bar, Deshaun yells "AYE MIKE!" I turn around and respond "What's up D?" and he says "I love you" puzzled I smile and say "I love you too" making my way towards the bar. From that moment, everything was a blur and happened so fast. A fight amongst a group of people broke out forcing bouncers to push people on to the street. Scrambling amongst the crowd of people I see Deshaun arguing with a shadow like figure in the distance. Rapidly making my way towards Deshaun..BANG! BANG! I dove on the ground for cover like a solider at war. Laying on the concrete dazed and scared suddenly I come back to reality and witness my best friend, my brother Deshaun shot twice and killed.
The psychological challenge of Deshaun's death was to admit that it happened, with time I've finally been able to do so. This allowed me to accept what happened, reflect and honour that I was the last person Deshaun spent his remaining time with. The last words we spoke to each other were in the tone of love which has given me the inspiration and motivation to have the sense of urgency to live life every day like it's my last because Deshaun Wesley Greer lived every day like it was his last for 24 years.
• CHAPTER III:
'Two things are two sides of the same coin'
June 21st, 2017:
I'm in Auckland, New Zealand curled up in agony on the hardwood floor. Shaking in shock urgently pleading for my teammates to get me my phone. I fear I have done something detrimental to my left knee from an awkward landing in my basketball game. I need the comfort of my family in this moment of despair. Craving for my grandmothers nurture it was the first number I dialled. She answered on the first ring (intuition) "tuff what's wrong!?" as soon as I heard her angelic voice in concern I immediately started to sob uncontrollably repeating "it's all over, my basketball career is over." After being told by doctors that immediate surgery was required to repair my patella tendon and there was also a 90% chance I wouldn't play basketball again. Hearing this type of news was equivalent to hearing your favourite superhero died.
Now learning that I couldn't play basketball for the next 12 months it forced me out of my comfort zone completely. By not having the aid of my family and friends, living in a foreign country whilst navigating this major injury pushed me to suicidal thoughts but a wiseman told me; "Sometimes the worse thing that happens to you can end up being the best thing that happened to you." This forced me to think about my life outside of basketball which has opened up the avenue to me finding the real purpose in my life through the game that I love.
April 24th, 2021:
There are different ways of looking at or dealing with the same situation.
Currently living in Melbourne, Australia which I consider to be my second home, I'm faced with the same challenge from four years ago.
Another immediate patella tendon surgery this time on my right knee from slipping aggressively on sweat while playing in my basketball game.
From the moment I got to the hospital I started to think to myself about what the wiseman told me in New Zealand; "Sometimes the worse thing that happens to you can up being the best thing that happened to you." Reiterating that message to myself forced me to again reflect on my life, this time from a microscopic point of view.
What I realised was that everything I want and everything I have ever received has been on the other side of hard. The contrast from this knee injury opposed to the first is that I'm surrounded by great people, I am emotionally, mentally and spiritually in a positive place and I have so much going for myself away from basketball. Truthfully, there is great beauty in the struggle, it was up to me to find it.
With that being said I wouldn't trade the challenges for the world because it revealed my purpose in life. Sometimes God frustrates your process to restore your priorities.
• CHAPTER IV:
'Reflection is the ultimate weapon'
I'm just a kid from Beckley, West Virginia where in my neighbourhood youth carry guns and sell drugs which only leads to one or two things, you end up in jail, or worse, dead.
Basketball has brought me overseas to not only play the game that I love but to pay it forward to the youth with my knowledge and experience. Inspiring and motivating people with my journey while giving insight that being from the most liveable city in the world Melbourne, Australia is a true blessing and it shouldn't be taken for granted. In hindsight, the game opened so many other doors for me that with only reflection I could truly appreciate. Basketball granted me the way out of my dangerous community, blessed me to receive a college degree, gave me the opportunity to travel the world and most importantly allowed me to build relationships with people that will last a lifetime.
October 19th, 2015:
Six years ago I landed in Melbourne, Australia to chase my dream of becoming a professional basketball player. Little did I know that my risk would reward me to work with NIKE, live in New Zealand, co-own a charity foundation, run mentorship programs for youth, become a motivational speaker, head coach a basketball academy, host my own podcast and become a talent model. I will never let the success get to my head nor the failures get to my heart. I'm not where I want to be today but I am closer than I was yesterday. Basketball, my first true love has allowed me to create a new life in two diversely different worlds. It's mind boggling to think that my Australia family and friends have never met my family and friends in America but with the seeds basketball has planted for my future I'm currently in position to make the dream of my two worlds meeting a reality.