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 Thursday, March 16
Elliott makes historic comeback
Associated Press

 SAN ANTONIO -- He kept telling himself to relax. After all, he has been playing basketball his whole life.

Only Sean Elliott knew this different, unlike anything that's been done in sports. Seven months after a kidney transplant, he was defying medical precedent in a return to the NBA.

Tue, March 14
The Spurs are not sure what to expect from Sean Elliott. Nobody is under any illusion here. They don't know what he can do once he's on the floor and the adrenaline wears off. They don't know how long he can play. They are hoping he can give them something resembling what he did in the playoffs last season.

At the start it will be about 6-10 minutes per half. They will work him in gradually, let him get his legs and conditioning back. He has 19 games left, not a lot of time if you haven't gone through training camp. This really is his training camp. The Spurs are hoping by the playoffs that Elliott can give them lots of minutes and a lot of production.

Sean Elliott wanted to come back. He's been badgering the doctors and sneaking into practice. He's been practicing the for last five weeks and his teammates have been banging on him the last two weeks. They need him in the lineup at small forward. They've been playing Mario Elie there but they have not found a person for that spot that they like. Elliott opens up the floor with his shooting and that opens up the floor for guys like Tim Duncan and David Robinson.

Certainly, no one in the crowd or on the opposing bench looked at it as just another game.

As the scoreboard flashed "He's Baaaacckk!" the crowd roared and even the opposition Atlanta Hawks and the game officials got into the act, shaking hands with Elliott as he came onto the court.

Atlanta's Dikembe Mutombo gave him a hug just before the tipoff as the crowd continued to cheer.

"He just said, 'Welcome back, congratulations.' That's what most of the other guys said to me," Elliott said after the game.

Playing 12 minutes, Elliott was 1-for-3 from the field and sent the Alamodome crowd into a roar with a right-handed dunk five minutes into the third period. Elliott got a quick step around defender Roshown McLeod and drove the lane to score his only basket.

Elliott also had a rebound and an assist and said afterward he felt a lot better than he thought he would on the court.

"The biggest things that were in my way were my nerves," he said. "I think during the national anthem I was trying to tell myself over and over -- 'Don't embarrass yourself.' "

Minutes into the game, Elliott bounced to the floor following a collision inside with Motumbo. No foul and no harm and Elliott jumped up and kept playing.

Elliott played five minutes before being replaced by Jerome Kersey, who has been starting at small forward. Elliott started the third period and played seven minutes in the second half.

As the clock ticked away at the end of the game, the crowd shouted, "We want Sean! We want Sean!"

Perhaps cheering the loudest were 46 family and close friends of Elliott, including brother Noel and mother Odiemae Elliott. His mother said before the game she cooked Elliott his favorite meal, spaghetti with turkey meat.

Noel Elliott, who contributed the kidney transplanted into Sean, said the night was important to him because he wanted to see his brother achieve his goal.

"On a scale of one to 10, I'd say about an 11 -- very important," he said.

Elliott has been through a lot, even before the kidney trouble. He's had two season-ending leg injuries and also has the distinction of once being traded to Detroit for Dennis Rodman.

He's been through a lot, even before the kidney trouble. He's had two season-ending leg injuries and also has the distinction of once being traded to Detroit for Dennis Rodman.

But this is a piece of medical history. No professional athlete in a major sport has returned to his or her sport after a kidney transplant.

Until now.

Sean Elliott
Spurs forward Sean Elliott played Tuesday, less than seven months after undergoing a kidney transplant.

Elliott received Noel's kidney on Aug. 16. At first, he could walk only gingerly. He worked up to light conditioning exercises. By Feb. 2, he was able to have full-contact practices with his teammates.

Along the way, there were setbacks. Perhaps the biggest came in December when he contracted pneumonia. That sent him back to the hospital and caused him to doubt his return to basketball.

But he persevered. He ended his stint as a TV commentator for the Spurs, knowing he was a player at heart -- a player who wanted to rejoin the NBA champions.

"Seven months doesn't seem like a long time," he said. "I'm just pleased that I've made it this far, to be honest with you, especially with the several speed bumps I went through to get here." Elliott had focal glomerulosclerosis, a disease that prevents the kidneys from properly filtering waste from the blood. He needed the transplant or faced the prospect of dialysis.

His brother Noel was a medical match, and the two underwent surgery two months after the Spurs had won the NBA title.

Doctors say the risk of injury to Elliott's new kidney, positioned in his right pelvic area, is minimal and the anti-rejection drugs are not expected to hinder his play.

"It's unbelievable," teammate Tim Duncan said. "But the way he's worked, to see him out here every day on the floor, that was one of his goals. To see him achieve it is great."

Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said the team didn't go easy on Elliott once he was given the OK to practice.

"He's obviously a true competitor and he's thought this through with his family, with his physicians and he wants this badly," Popovich said.

Guard Avery Johnson thinks the team might feed off the energy from Elliott's return.

"It's great not just for basketball but for a lot of different people who have been in situations like Sean," Johnson said. "Just to see how he's going to give a lot of transplant patients hope goes far beyond and transcends basketball."

Elliott has spent his entire pro career in San Antonio with the exception of the 1993-94 season, when he was traded for Rodman. Elliott, long a fan favorite in San Antonio, was brought back the following year.

Along with Elliott's family, friends and doctors, thousands of fans headed to the Alamodome on Tuesday to see him.

One of his biggest supporters is Red McCombs, the current owner of the Minnesota Vikings who owned the Spurs when Elliott was drafted with the third overall pick in 1989. McCombs still has Spurs season tickets, and he visited with Elliott on Monday at his last hard practice before his return.

"I'm not the least bit surprised," McCombs said, reflecting on all the injuries Elliott has overcome.

He calls Elliott's comeback a "goose-bumpy kind of a deal."

"It is a story that's far beyond sports. It is a story of heart. It is a story of the medical greatness that we've got in this country," McCombs said. "He will finish out his career as a great player."

Elliott completes comeback, helps Spurs beat Hawks

Lawrence: Elliott is a true champ

 Sean Elliott says he put much thought into his decision to return.
RealAudio: 14.4 | 28.8 | 56.6

 Gregg Popovich would advise Elliott not to come back.
RealAudio: 14.4 | 28.8 | 56.6

 Dr. Francis Wright says chances of injury are slim.
RealAudio: 14.4 | 28.8 | 56.6

 Sean Elliott says there was no question he was going to come back.
RealAudio: 14.4 | 28.8 | 56.6

 Steve Kerr says Elliott still has his skills.
RealAudio: 14.4 | 28.8 | 56.6