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Adam Zagoria covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
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Thursday / November 15.
  • Gonzalez to Dribble Through NYC Marathon

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    One of the most interesting and compelling people I met during my 10 years at the Herald News was Gian Paul Gonzalez, a native of North Haledon, N.J. who was a Division III All-American at Montclair State.

    Check out the story below I wrote on Gonzalez a few years back. In it, Gonzalez talks about how he discovered his mother’s doctor advised her to have an abortion when she was pregnant with him because she had German measles.

    Anyway, given how much I know about Gonzalez and his faith, it didn’t surprise me too much to learn that he will undertake something truly remarkable on Sunday.

    Gonzalez plans to dribble a basketball through the entire 26.2 miles of the New York City Marathon in order to raise awareness and money for Ball 4 Lives, an organization in partnership with Bethesda Outreach, which provides care and funds to orphans in South Africa whose parents have died of AIDS. To prepare for Sunday, Gonzalez recently dribbled from the George Washington Bridge to down town Jersey City.

    “I see this as an awesome opportunity provided for 4-One to partner with an amazing ministry, as we raise funds to impact lives both overseas for these needy orphans through Ball 4 Lives,” Gonzalez said. “In addition, we can also assist the needy youth in our juvenile detention centers and public schools which 4-One Impacts.

    “The numbers 316 and 514 are numbers I have written on my running shoes for inspiration. Those are the number of high schools and middle schools in the State of New Jersey. Hopefully through the raising of funds, it is my dream to be able to host an assembly in every one of these schools, bringing a message of hope and purpose to every student, encouraging them to avoid the pitfalls and snares which surround them found in drug and alcohol abuse, teen pregnancy, poor self-image and gang violence.”

    For more information, contact Gian Paul Gonzalez at 201 572-4164 or log on to these sites: www.ball4lives.com and www.4-one.org.

    Keeping the faith
    North Jersey Newspapers ^ | 11.22.05 | ADAM ZAGORIA

    Posted on Wednesday, November 23, 2005 12:34:27 PM

    altarrowGian Pal Gonzalez stands with his mother, Catherine, outside of Grace Bible Church in North Haledon.
    Gian Paul Gonzalez was 11 years old when his mother told him a story that forever changed his life.

    They were discussing miracles, and whether or not they ever happened. Gian Paul, now an All-New Jersey Athletic Conference forward on the Montclair State basketball team, said he doubted that they did, and Catherine Gonzalez told her son that he needed to sit down and hear about the miracle that was his own life.

    When Catherine was first pregnant with Gian Paul in late 1982, she visited a prenatal center in West New York, near the family’s home in Union City. There, after doing some blood tests on her, a doctor looked at a sheet of paper, mumbled that she had “German measles” and ran out of the room. When Catherine read the piece of paper, it warned that the baby could be blind, deaf, affected with mental retardation and might suffer loss of fingers or limbs.

    “On the bottom of the paper it said, ‘You need an abortion,’ ” Catherine recalled. “Abortion is the only way to deal with this issue.”

    Catherine drove home alone because her husband, Alex, was not with her that day, but she had to pull over because she was crying so much.

    “I was afraid maybe (the baby) would be so deformed that maybe I couldn’t love him,” she recalled.

    A person of deep faith, Catherine prayed to God and found that she had the strength to get through this ordeal.

    “On the car ride I decided not to opt for an abortion,” she said. “I thought, ‘I’m going to have more faith in God than I had in that doctor.’ “

    A selfless leader

    Gian Paul turned out to be one of the biggest and healthiest babies born in Palisades General Hospital in August 1983. Now 22, he is 6-foot-6 and 215 pounds. He lives with his family in North Haledon; he has two brothers, one older and one younger, as well as a younger sister.

    A two-time All-NJAC selection who played three years at Manchester High School, Gonzalez ranked second in the league in scoring last year at 17.9 points per game, and ranked ninth in rebounds with 6.7. He poured in 32 points and grabbed 10 rebounds in Montclair’s season-opening win against Newport News Friday in Reading, Pa., and added 19 points in a loss Saturday to Alvernia in the championship game of the Tom Masano Tip-Off Tournament. The Red Hawks (1-1) open on their home floor tonight against NJAC rival New Jersey City.

    While anyone who watches him play understands that Gonzalez is an extremely talented and hard-working basketball player, the circumstances surrounding his birth and childhood also have deeply formed the way he lives his life. He said the story his mother told him about how he was born did not fully impact his life until he started college.

    “For me, it’s like the action movies where the guy was supposed to be killed a while ago, and then all of sudden he comes back and people are like, ‘I thought he was dead,’ ” Gonzalez said. “I just kind of see it as I got borrowed time. I was supposed to be dead but I’m not. So I’m going to do as much as I can with the time I’m given.”

    “He is a very thankful kind of kid for his own existence, the way his life has turned out, and he really wants to give back and contribute to the community and to the other kids,” said Montclair basketball coach Ted Fiore, who has heard Gonzalez tell the story about his birth at various dinners and functions. “He’s a tremendously selfless skid. He’s one of those outstanding young people that you would ever have.”

    Fiore said Gonzalez is sometimes too selfless on the court and must be encouraged to take over the game more.

    “He’s a fantastic leader, almost to a fault,” Fiore said.

    ‘You have to give back’

    Catherine believes this style of play developed from the lifestyle she and her husband lived and the principles they imbued in their children.

    “It’s part of his personality,” she said. “Everybody matters. You have to serve, you have to give back.”

    Catherine and Alex spent much of their time in Union City helping disadvantaged inner-city youths. They would pick up kids and take them apple-picking in the suburbs.

    “To these kids, it was like you had given them tickets to heaven,” Catherine recalled.

    Growing up in Union City wasn’t easy. Catherine said she once sent Gian Paul to pick up some milk at the local grocery store, and later learned that a man had been shot in the face there just moments after Gian Paul had left. Drug deals outside the house were commonplace, and a woman was murdered across the street from where they lived.

    Still, the family continued to minister and help out in the community, and Gian Paul responded to that in a positive way.

    “He saw us ministering to these poor kids,” Catherine said. “He always felt that was cool and he wanted to be part of the inner city. When we moved out here (to North Haledon), he was disappointed that there was no good basketball happening out here.”

    Even after moving to the suburbs, Catherine and Alex continued to spend much of their time helping others. Alex teaches English as a Second Language (ESL) at Harrison High School and Spanish at William Paterson. Catherine works with homeschool students at the Grace Bible Church just down the road from the family home.

    Gian Paul has carried on the family tradition by serving as a youth leader and working with inner city kids at his church, Cavalry Temple in Wayne; ministering to troubled youths at local prisons; speaking to high school student-athletes about the intersection of sports, faith and personal responsibility; and even launching a non-profit organization, 4One, which involves several area athletes, including former Eastern Christian basketball standout Steve King, and focuses on teaching kids how to be positive role models.

    The name 4One is derived from Gonzalez’s experience playing for And1, the athletic apparel company that is popular with basketball fans for its highlight videos and nationwide tour.

    Gonzalez has a number of engagements for the 4One group lined up, including events with the Hawthorne Christian and Manchester basketball teams.

    “He wants to relay the message of his faith to the kids,” Hawthorne Christian coach Kevin Standford said. “He’s using basketball to get their attention.”

    “We’ll play with the varsity team and the teachers and at halftime we’ll tell them why we’re really here,” Gonzalez said. “Yeah, we’re talented and it’s great you guys are talented as well. But the reason we’re here is not just to have basketball. It’s not ‘And1,’ we’re great, look at us. This is, ‘Hey, you guys are great, too. Get your school together. Get your life together.’ ”

    Thankful for his own life, Gian Paul Gonzalez wants to share the miracle with as many people as he can.

    Written by

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    Adam Zagoria is a Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. A contributor to The New York Times and SportsNet New York (SNY), he is also the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist and filmmaker. His articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide. He also won an Emmy award for his work on the SNY mini-documentary on Syracuse guard Tyus Battle. A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013. He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.