GREAT FALLS — In November, MTN Sports shared the story of Weston Lee, a 7-year-old boy from Great Falls with a condition called 18q deletion syndrome. The effects of the condition include hearing impairment, muscle weakness and delays in language and communication.
Weston is playing in his first year of organized basketball for the Green Grinches of the Heisey Youth League. And after some initial struggles with the physical aspects of the game, his coaches taught Weston how to shoot underhanded — a form popularized by former NBA Finals MVP and hall of famer Rick Barry.
After making the switch, Weston is thriving with an underhanded shooting style and even scored his first basket in a game earlier this year, with support and encouragement from his teammates.
His story caught the attention of folks in the area, including coaches and administrators at the University of Providence. Weston and his teammates were invited to Saturday’s games against Montana Western where they were presented with team gear and shoes and made honorary Argos.
“I felt really good,” Weston said.
Weston’s story also caught the attention of a certain legendary basketball player — Rick Barry himself.
Weston’s coach Dennis Fowler reached out to Barry online, and much to his surprise received a response asking for an address to send a gift.
Days later a picture of Rick Barry arrived in the mail with an autograph and an inscription:
“Weston — Happy Hooping! I’m proud of you for learning to shoot using my underhanded style.”
Barry, who played professional basketball in both the ABA and NBA from 1965-1980, pioneered the art of shooting free throws underhanded. And while it’s fallen out of style in the modern era, Barry was a career 90% free throw shooter. He was an eight-time NBA All-Star and five-time first-team All-NBA selection and was named one of the 50 greatest NBA players of all time.
Outside of basketball he’s a father of six kids, including five sons who all played professional basketball. He didn't hesitate to respond when he learned about Weston’s story and shooting style.
“I’ve been blessed with so many children and they've all been healthy. So I'm very blessed in that regard,” Barry told MTN Sports. "And when you get any child who has a love for the game that's been so good to me, it's great. And especially when you start talking about the underhanded free throw, which is kind of special to me as well. I think what Weston did was great.”
Fowler surprised Weston with the autographed photo at the Argo game. Both Weston and his family were speechless.
“It’s indescribable to see how the community has come together and how Weston’s coaches reached out to Rick Barry,” said Weston’s mother, Kayla Lee. “And for him to take the time to do something like that for my son is a blessing. It’s priceless, we’re going to remember this moment forever."
Barry, 79, gained a reputation as a hard-nosed player who wasn’t afraid to speak his mind. He’s been around basketball for his entire life and experienced highs and lows in his career. But even he was moved by Weston’s determination and love for the game and the support of the Green Grinches.
"It’s just so heart warming to see the the caring that people have for other people. The world is full of good people, they just don’t get the headlines,” Barry said. “And people like Weston don't want your pity.
"They want your love, they want your compassion, they want your help and your assistance and to be there for them and help them as much as you possibly can. And so any time you can do something to nurture a young child and to give them something to get excited about, to encourage them in any way possible, I'm always for that."
In a world where you can choose to be anything, an NBA legend and team of first and second graders chose to be kind. And that’s always the winning choice.