Brian Bell displays the Gold Medal he earned helping the USA Men’s Wheelchair Basketball Team win the championship in Tokyo. It weighs 1.2 pounds and is only 1.2% gold. The rest of the medal is made from recycled electronic devices. The memories of taking home Gold from Tokyo, though, are more precious than any metal.

Brian treasures other mementos from the Paralympics, including snips of twine he cut from the net after the Championship Match and a basketball signed by his teammates. Brian and his fellow players spent weeks working out at the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Training Center in Colorado Springs. They left Colorado Springs on Aug. 17 for their 11-hour flight to Tokyo.

When they arrived, Brian found the Japanese people receptive to the international athletes, despite the health emergency they were facing. There would be no sight-seeing for the athletes as they were restricted to the bubble at the Olympic Village. Buses whisked them to the empty arenas, where they took on the best wheelchair teams in the world.

Their first tournament game was against Germany, a tough opponent, but Brian scored 20 points and grabbed 11 rebounds. “Anyone on our team can do that,” he said modestly. Bell, though, scored three late baskets and dished out a key assist as the USA rallied to win 58-55. His offensive skills aside, Brian is one of the team’s top defenders, blocking shots, corralling rebounds and making steals. 

Next up was an easy 65-41 win over Iran. In their third game, the USA lost 64-63 to Great Britain, as their last-second basket was waved off. Fired up, they trounced Australia 66-38. They easily beat Algeria and Turkey before outscoring Spain 66-52. Good sportsmanship was on display, with a Spanish player applauding an American basket. Brian explained that most Paralympians know each other from competing on professional teams.

The Championship Match pitted the USA against Japan. Brian described Japan as the tournament’s “Cinderella” team, after their upset of Great Britain. They gave the Americans a terrific battle, leading late in the game. Brian had his usual great all-round game and scored a key basket on a fast break. 

After beating Japan 64-60, the American teammates exchanged tearful and smiling hugs. “It was amazing to win again through all the adversity,” Brian said, topping the experience of taking the Gold Medal in Rio four years ago.   

Between games, the USA team had scrimmaged, watched video of opponents and viewed the USA women’s wheelchair games on TV. They filled downtime by playing video games and cards. They didn’t have a curfew but retired by 10 p.m. 

They slept on reinforced cardboard beds. They had adjustable foam mattresses that were adequate in length but Brian said, “They were not the greatest for sleeping.” The village served a variety of Asian food, along with American, Indian and vegan dishes. 

The Olympic Village had its comforts but Brian and his family made a great sacrifice to win the Gold Medal. Brian, who is married to Forest Park native Diane Burdett and whose in-laws (Robert and Kathleen Burdett) still live here, was separated from his wife and their five kids for three months. They did find time, though, to celebrate their 10th wedding anniversary. Brian acknowledges that Diane’s support, “Gives me the opportunity to play basketball.”

When his professional contract in Germany ends in May 2022, the Bell family will return to the U.S. They are looking to settle in a place that’s affordable and has a “neutral climate.” After completing his MBA degree, Brian will find a “real” job (he hopes in Human Relations). He hasn’t given up his Paralympic dream, though, and is looking forward to winning another Gold Medal in Paris. 

John Rice

John Rice is a columnist/novelist who has seen his family thrive in Forest Park. He has published two books set in the village: The Ghost of Cleopatra and The Doll with the Sad Face.