Marques Maybin went from Cardinals basketball star to paraplegic to radio personality. His is the voice of experience.
His crisp, clear, confident voice jumps out of the radio. His opinions are sound ones, formed from years of playing the game, not the instant fan-love/fan-hate that dominates so much of talk radio.
Who is this guy? He’s too thoughtful, too articulate, to be just an athlete.
Marques Maybin is full of surprises.
“Some people hear me on radio and say, ‘Marques Maybin? There used to be a Louisville basketball player by that name,’” says the leader of Denny Crum’s last Cardinal team (17.7 points a game in 2001). “‘Couldn’t be the same guy, though.’ You know athletes – baggy shorts, corn rows, tattoos, always that hint of trouble. Mindless thugs.”
Maybe the most impressive thing about that resonant, disembodied radio voice is not that he was an athlete, nor that he has a degree in psychology, nor even that his vocabulary goes well beyond “gets after the quarterback” or “can go to the hoop.”
No, the biggest surprise – the most impressive thing – is that he’s doing all this while sitting in a wheelchair, victim of a motorcycle accident 14 years ago that robbed him of the use of his lower body.
Did I say “victim”? Sorry. That’s someone else’s word. It’s not Maybin’s word. Ever.
In the summer of 2003, after leaving Louisville and playing a couple of seasons overseas, in Lebanon and in France, Maybin slammed his motorcycle into a truck in an intersection back home in Clarksville, Tenn.
And changed his life. Right?
“Kind of, in terms of activity, but not really in terms of mentality,” he says. “You know, things can happen. It was what it was.”
Kind of changed? Things happen? Was what it was?
Who is this guy?
“Right after my accident, I couldn’t even move my hands,” Maybin recalls. “But you know, I considered the worst-case scenario. At least I was still alive. And after some weeks in rehab, I was able to move my hands. Then after a few more weeks, I was able to get out of bed and get around a little bit.
“Once I could take care of myself, everything else was ‘Let’s go! I’m not bed-ridden. I don’t need someone hovering over me.’ It was all icing after that.”
So, this is a professional athlete rendered a paraplegic in a random accident who says it’s “all icing” because he’s alive and not bed-ridden. You know this is someone who won’t vanish into the wallpaper, someone who won’t devote the rest of his life to bitterness, alcohol, depression.
But Maybin had already sewn the seeds of his recovery, starting with great family support and nurtured by the relationships he’d made in Louisville.
The university held a Marques Maybin Invitational Basketball Tournament that raised $170,000 for his medical expenses. Austin Peay University from his Clarksville home town pledged its proceeds from that tournament, and U of L coach Rick Pitino – who wasn’t even Maybin’s college coach, who had coached that school down the road – offered to match it.
A local 5k run was organized by the school on his behalf. The “collection plate was passed” at Cardinal home games.
“I had the Yellow Brick Road of recoveries,” Maybin says. “I felt so unworthy of such love and support, I couldn’t really complain about anything.”
Is there really a “Yellow Brick Road of recovery” from a paralyzing motorcycle accident? Maybin acknowledges that his story is probably “too cheesy” to be real. “If it were a movie, nobody would believe it.”
And right about now, he’s getting impatient. Because he doesn’t want his story to be just about a motorcycle accident and his rehab. There’s a second act, and it’s much more relevant than the first.
After going underground – “I wasn’t hiding from the world. Just let me deal with this at my own speed. I never wanted to be the high-profile charitable case, wheeled into games like some kind of sad story.” – he was invited back by the university to complete his degree. And he began to attend some basketball games, and to be interviewed on air by such local broadcast stalwarts as Bob Domine and Jerry Eaves.
Those went well. “Talking basketball on the phone from my living room was pretty easy,” he says. Then, two years ago, Drew Deener of ESPN radio (and a regular TOPS columnist) asked him to come to the studio. He actually lost his voice the first time he was scheduled to appear, but he went in the next week and people seemed to enjoy it. “It took off from there.” Very soon, he had his own morning show on 93.9 The Ville.
What he knew, he says, is that he didn’t want to be one of those controversial types, all opinions all the time at a very high volume. “A lot of times, people run out of narratives and are drawn into negatives,” he says.
“I knew I wouldn’t be negative. I didn’t want to be one of these arrogant ‘I played and you didn’t type of ex-athletes. I want to give you my eyes, to pick up on things I could see and maybe you didn’t, so you could understand, through me, what a player might be thinking. Live it and see it vicariously through me.”
Radio means constant pressure to fill the silence of the air. But Marques was intent on avoiding drama, on not picking a fight. Not that he didn’t have strong opinions.
“But I keep it in the chamber as long as possible,” he says, invoking the vernacular of his father, an Army medivac helicopter pilot who flew more Gulf War missions than anyone else. Maybin was a military brat who traveled the world of forts and bases before landing in Tennessee. He saw guns, and shooting. Maybe that’s part of his equanimity about his own situation.
“When I do unload, it seems to scare people, so I hold back. Still, you have to make sure the chamber is always loaded, as soon as the opening music plays. You can’t get caught unarmed.”
His fire is often aimed East on I-64 toward the University of Kentucky campus. It’s all part of this area’s natural sports rivalry, whether you suited up in red and black against Big Blue Nation, or you only shouted at the big screen in BW3.
Oddly, though, a part of his heart bleeds blue.
“We’re all from Clarksville, and so is Alex Poythress,” says Maybin of the former Wildcat star. “My son, Jalen [an ex-University of Tennessee linebacker now with the Detroit Lions], grew up with the Poythress kids – Alex and his twin sister, Alexis. And he and Alexis have a son – my grandson – together. So, you see, you can be Cardinal red and black and hate Kentucky all you want, but sometimes life intrudes.”
Life intrudes. Who knows that, if not Marques Maybin? And who has handled it any better?
MARQUES’S TOP Five; Local places he loves to frequent
THE UNIVERSITY OF LOUISVILLE CAMPUS
“Nothing Keeps Me As Inspired And Feeling Youthful As The People And Energy Of A College Campus. The Growth You Can Witness Keeps Everything New And Fresh.”
“One of my favorite things to do is debate which places have the best dishes and, ironically, I like to sit in 502 Cafe and have said debates on a nearly daily basis.”
THE ACCESSIBLE AISLE IN THE KFC YUM CENTER
“I feel like I always have the absolutely best spot in the Yum Center to watch a basketball game. Not too close… not too far… plenty of room. Traffic is always at a steady flow around me, so I can interact with tons of people at each and every game.”
MEDIA ROOM AT PAPA JOHN’S CARDINAL STADIUM
“I believe I am a regular person with extraordinary experiences. I think about that every time I find myself in the media room of the football stadium with all you can eat food and drink.”
THE ESPN LOUISVILLE STUDIO
“I love my job and the daily gratification it brings me knowing I never have to go a single day without giving someone a piece of my humor and positive energy.”