First person with MS to play in the NBA shares his inspiring message

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Multiple sclerosis is a life-changing diagnosis for one million people who are affected in the U.S. — but for a professional athlete, its physical limitations can seem particularly challenging.

Chris Wright, 34, the first person with MS to play in the National Basketball Association (NBA), has been living with the disorder since his 2012 diagnosis.

Ahead of World MS Day on May 30, Wright and his neurologist, Dr. Heidi Crayton, joined Fox News Digital in an on-camera interview from Washington, D.C., to discuss how he has come to terms with his MS and to share words of wisdom for others facing the diagnosis. (See the video at the top of this article.)

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Wright first experienced symptoms in 2012, he said, when he noticed tingling in his right foot while warming up for an overseas basketball game in Turkey.

“As I was shooting, I felt a tingling sensation in my right hand that eventually spread throughout my entire body within a matter of a minute,” he told Fox News Digital.

Chris Wright split

Chris Wright, 34, the first person with MS to play in the NBA, has been living with the disorder since his 2012 diagnosis. (Getty Images/Chris Wright)

His coaches sent him to a doctor, who told him to take the day off.

“The next morning I woke up, and I couldn’t walk. I couldn’t stand up. I couldn’t really use my limbs,” he recalled.

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Wright returned to the doctor, this time in a wheelchair.

“They sent me to a specialist, where I was quickly diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.”

MS is a chronic disease of the central nervous system that can affect movement, vision, speech and other functions.

After going through several other doctors, Wright found Dr. Crayton, a board-certified neurologist who practices at the Multiple Sclerosis Center of Greater Washington.

Chris Wright basketball

Chris Wright of Bertram Derthona Basket Tortona in action during the LBA Lega Basket Series A Playoffs Semi-Final Game 3 match between Bertram Derthona Basket Tortona and Virtus Segafredo Bologna PalaEnergica Paolo Ferraris on May 31, 2022, in Casale Monferrato, Italy. (Getty Images)

“What led me to her was her confidence and her ability to simplify what it meant to have MS and to make it manageable for me. [She] helped me understand that I could still go on with my career and my life in a way that I wanted to,” he said.

Crayton noted that the patient-doctor relationship is a “marathon, not a sprint.” 

She told Fox News Digital, “It’s really important to find a doctor they can trust, who they can communicate with, who they can partner with to make decisions.”

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“You need a team of people who support you, love you and accept you.” 

Less than a year after his diagnosis, Wright became the first person with MS to play in the NBA when he signed with the Dallas Mavericks.

“MS impacted my career tremendously, because there was nobody before me,” Wright told Fox News Digital. 

“You need a team of people who support you, love you and accept you.” 

“I had NBA offers that were retracted because of the possibility of me having medical conditions and just being in uncharted territory — but I kept working and overcame it.”

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Wright, a husband and father of three, is no longer playing basketball these days, but he is feeling healthy and enjoying life, he said.

“Living with MS, it looks good, it feels good — I feel great,” he said. 

“I try to stay active. I try to stay healthy. I try to stay moving. And I’ve been able to keep myself healthy and continue to be a father and live my life the way I want to live.”

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‘Badge of honor’

For all those facing a new diagnosis, Wright encouraged seeking out resources from people who have “walked these halls” before. 

“There are people who understand what you’re going through, and it’s important to hear other stories and get a foundational knowledge of what your life will look like moving forward.”

Dr. Heidi Crayton

After going through several other doctors, Wright found Dr. Crayton, pictured here, a board-certified neurologist who practices at the Multiple Sclerosis Center of Greater Washington. (Dr. Heidi Crayton)

Wright is involved with Express4MS, a campaign that encourages people with MS to express themselves, share their stories and discuss treatment options with their doctors.

“It’s just something you can put in your toolbox to find information, inspiration and motivation to live every day in a positive way,” Wright said.

“Walk with pride, and know that you’re going to be OK.”

“I would say to people: Stay with it, go through those tough times, figure out what works for you,” he said. 

“Figure out how you can be successful at whatever it is you do.”

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Wright urges MS patients to look at the disease not as a hindrance, but as a “badge of honor.”

He said, “Walk with pride, and know that you’re going to be OK.”

Clayton advises her MS patients to “treat your body like a temple.”

Chris Wright

Chris Wright of Bertram Derthona Basket Tortona in action during the LBA Lega Basket Serie A Playoffs Semi-Final Game 3 match between Bertram Derthona Basket Tortona and Virtus Segafredo Bologna PalaEnergica Paolo Ferraris on May 31, 2022, in Casale Monferrato, Italy. (Getty Images)

“It will pay you back in spades if you can invest in your health — eat well, exercise, sleep,” she said. 

While people with MS will always have bad days, Wright is focused on maintaining a positive outlook.

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“As long as you’re above ground, you have an opportunity to make the most of it,” he said. 

“Every action has an equal and opposite reaction — so whatever you put out there is the energy that’s going to come back.”

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