Saturday afternoon, Lawrence Academy (Mass.) dropped its final game of the season to Buckingham Browne and Nichols (Mass.) 65-63 on Senior Day. However, the game’s first basket, greatly outweighed the final score.
Earlier in the week, Lawrence head coach Kevin Wiercinski approached senior manager Joey Mullaney, who suffers from a rare neurological disorder called Friedreich’s ataxia, and asked about whether he wanted to suit up for the final game of the season, in the hopes of getting him on the floor.
“He was like ‘let me think about it,'” said Wiercinski. “Then he came in after the next class and he was like, ‘I’ll do it under one condition.’”
“If I can dunk,” said Mullaney, who retold the conversation in a phone interview on Monday afternoon.
“He laughed it off,” added Mullaney. “I was like, ‘I’m not lying. I’m dunking it.’ I’ve seen these kind of shots before where kids do layups or threes. I just really wanted to go out with a bang.”
After giving a quick call to BB&N, as well as requesting the referees neglect the rules for about 30 seconds, the Spartans spent Friday practicing the staged dunk.
The play began with teammate Darrien Myers winning the tip, with the help of Myers and Jalen Myrie, Mullaney got on top of the shoulders of 6-foot-7 Daquan Sampson. And the most important part of all, Mullaney’s twin brother, Sean, was able to give Joey the assist on his biggest athletic accomplishment.
“I would say it’s probably the greatest athletic achievement of my life, as well,” said Sean in a phone interview on Tuesday. “He had to give up so much of his life, so quickly, because of his disease, and to see him on the floor right in front of me, doing something we thought he never could, it was awesome.”
Being on the floor and even dunking wasn’t enough for Joey, who had to add some flare to the special moment.
“I did a little pull up like Dwyane Wade would do,” joked Mullaney. “I had to add emphasis to the dunk.”
Mullaney, who’s 22-year old sister Kaela also suffers from FA, hasn’t played a game of organized basketball since he was in eighth grade due the progression of the disease. It affects his walking, speech and hand-eye coordination. He needs help walking to and from class, although, he is typically being assisted by a female student as his coach points out.
“What it does is it kills the iron in your legs, so you can’t control your muscles,” explained Mullaney. “It starts from the legs and works its way up. Freshman year wasn’t that bad, now I’m much worse and I really need help walking anywhere.”
Joey continues to fight the disease, refusing to use a wheelchair while working out with the school’s trainer consistently. He will enroll in Quinnipiac this fall and hopes to be involved in the men’s basketball program. His twin brother, Sean, will play baseball at Bowdoin College. After years of being sidelined and months away from being separated by a four-hour drive, the Mullaneys were able to share the hardwood together once again.
“It was awesome,” said Joey. “I truly thought it would never happen again. It meant the world to me to play on the court with my brother one last time.”