As for this week, there's only one mission: ensuring the R-word goes the way of the N-word. TSO sent a nine-person delegation—including three Dallas athletes—to Washington, D.C., to lobby lawmakers to expunge "retarded" and replace it with "ID" (Intellectual Disability).

Said McNeil, "It's time we get that word out of the mainstream."

To be eligible for last weekend's tournament, players had to be diagnosed with a mental disorder or developmental delay such as autism, Down syndrome or an IQ below 70 ("normal" is considered 85-115). Autism may have been romanticized in Rain Man, but in basketball—in life—it's a handicap.

No contract squabbles. No big egos. Just play.
Eli Luna
No contract squabbles. No big egos. Just play.

It is not, however, a dead end.

"It was fun a little bit," said Conrad senior Tim, who scored all three of his team's six points and graced me with the most polite interview of my 23-year career in professional journalism. "I like practice more. I get to pass. Help my friends. That's fun."

During one Greenville possession in the first half, four of Conrad's players huddled in a corner while Eric refused to cross mid-court. In the second half: progress.

Eric went to his knees on the court in an attempt to cradle a loose ball. He consistently threw legal, progressively longer and more accurate inbound passes. And in the final minute, the kid who an hour earlier was ready to go hide in the back seat of the team's bus, ran down the court, caught a pass from a teammate and launched a two-handed shot that glanced off the backboard and grazed the rim.

While he triumphantly raised both hands, the rest of us dabbed our tears. Before I could congratulate him, Eric was walking briskly out of the gym—fingers in ears.

Moved to a lower level of competition after its opening loss, Conrad won its final two games of the tournament.

My new hero can't break your ankles. But he will break your heart.

Then put it back together, stronger than ever.

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