When Eric LeGrand was little, his mother wanted him to be a New York Knicks fan. So LeGrand would watch Patrick Ewing and Allan Houston and Latrell Sprewell, and that was all well and good, but it didn’t stick.
LeGrand has also met LeBron James, but he’s not a Miami Heat fan.
Instead, he’s a Kevin Garnett fan.
“Kevin Garnett was my guy, and I’ve been following him ever since,” the former Rutgers player said on The Morning Show. “That’s my man.”
LeGrand has always respected Garnett’s competitiveness and desire – two traits that LeGrand displayed in abundance at Rutgers until a 2010 spinal injury left him paralyzed.
But LeGrand, like Garnett, knows what it’s like to be a professional athlete. Legrand’s college coach, Greg Schiano, signed him to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2012, which would have been his draft year.
“It was truly amazing,” LeGrand said. “When Coach Schiano got the job down in Tampa, he told his players and everyone around that (he wanted his) players to play just like I did. He told them that. He wanted them to be like I was on and off the field. When he brought the idea up to the Glazer family, they said it was tremendous idea and they just went forward with it.”
LeGrand visited Tampa Bay’s facilities numerous times before announcing his retirement to free up a roster spot. At one point, LeGrand even addressed the team.
“Dallas Clark’s sitting there on (one) knee listening to what I’m saying,” LeGrand recalled. “Meanwhile, I’ve been watching this guy my whole life growing up. It was just an unreal moment. I just can’t thank coach enough for doing that for me.”
LeGrand, of course, hopes to one day walk again, and the mind-controlled exoskeleton at the World Cup on Thursday gave him a great deal of encouragement. A young adult who is paralyzed from the waste down was able to kick a soccer ball.
“It just shows how far we have come,” LeGrand said. “(It’ll be interesting to see) the next five or 10 years where we go. I believe we’re (so) close to a cure that people won’t even need the exoskeleton. They’ll be able to walk by themselves. I’m very excited where the research is going to take us. It’s all about the funding. As long as we can fund it, who knows? The sky’s the limit.”
LeGrand, 23, was asked how he stays so positive.
“Honestly, it’s the people I’m surrounded by every day,” he said. “I get great comments from my Twitter, Instagram and Facebook people reaching out. That inspires me to kind of take an honest responsibility. You got all these people looking up to me. How can I give up on them?”
“When I go into therapy, I see the people who would love to be in my situation,” LeGrand continued. “I know so many people who (are sitting at home). I’m never sitting at home. I’m always somewhere doing something. People would love to be all over – and I don’t take that for granted at all. I’m very appreciative of the things that have happened in my life. It’s a true blessing. I’ve just got to keep working hard and keeping that right attitude until that day I’m up on my feet again. We’ll see where life takes me after that.”
LeGrand, who has served as a motivational speaker, never writes down his speeches before an engagement. Rather, he just speaks from the heart.
“I know my story,” he said. “I know what I’ve been through.”