The natural progression of a star college basketball player is to move on to the NBA when his draft prospects are just right. The story of former Stanford University standout Orlando Ward, however, didn’t play out that way. Instead of having 20,000 fans watch him from the stands on a nightly basis, his journey took him to Los Angeles’ skid row and a life of drugs, homelessness and jail.
“I used to drive by skid row and wonder how people could live that way,” Ward told the AARP. “It was craziness, insanity. I had no idea that 20 years later, I would be one of those people.”
Ward’s downfall began almost three decades ago when he suffered a devastating knee injury during his sophomore year of college. He was never able to recover.
“That put me on a different trajectory in life,” Ward said. “There was a period of loneliness and isolation that I think made me make decisions that I wouldn’t have made in the past.”
His life then went on a downward spiral that lasted 17 years, during which he lost several jobs and never got sober despite numerous rehab attempts — until 1999, when he landed at Midnight Mission, an outreach program that offers services to the homeless as well as drug and alcohol rehabilitation.
His main skill on the court was rebounding, and that’s exactly what Ward did at Midnight Mission. After 10 years at the organization, he was named its vice president of operations, the highest position attained by any person who came off the street.
Read more at AARP.