A year after suffering a devastating injury, Aron Baynes has recovered and returned home to resume his basketball career.
Baynes, an Australian professional hoops veteran and 2009 Washington State graduate, signed last week with the NBL’s Brisbane Bullets.
“I’m excited every day – excited to be out there, to race,” Baynes said Thursday at an introductory press conference in Brisbane. “For the past few years, with COVID shutdowns and myself dealing with an injury, I know my happy place is being on the basketball court.”
Baynes suffered a career-threatening spinal cord injury while playing for Team Australia at the Tokyo Olympics last year. He fell during warm-up before a game against Nigeria. Three days later, in the middle of a game against Italy, he took a hard fall in the locker room and was later found unconscious, according to ESPN.
Then begins a grueling rehabilitation process. Baynes was unable to walk for two months, according to ESPN, but persevered and eventually made a remarkable rebound, returning to the court earlier this year for limited basketball activities. A three-time Olympian and longtime NBA mate, Baynes reportedly worked for a handful of NBA teams this summer before agreeing to a two-year contract with Brisbane – the capital of Baynes’ home state, Queensland.
“I’m trying to build the program here and can’t wait to see what we can do for basketball here in Queensland,” he said. “It’s the state I grew up in. Basketball has been great for me. Trying to give back on and off the pitch is a big part of why I wanted to be here.
“My family is in Brisbane. So trying to build the community that my family is part of is definitely a big thing for me.
His contract includes an international player buyout clause, which allows Baynes to return to the NBA if he receives an offer.
He played in the NBA for nine consecutive seasons before his injury, starting his career at San Antonio in 2012. He held a role for the Spurs for three seasons – helping the team win an NBA title in 2014 – before courts stays with Detroit, Boston, Phoenix and Toronto. Baynes has appeared in 522 NBA games and his career averages stand at 6 points (on 49% shooting), 4.6 rebounds and 0.5 blocks per game.
“My ultimate goal is to come back to the NBA,” he said on a radio show in Brisbane on Friday. “It’s kind of one of those things that (NBA teams) need me to show them what I can do and still do it at the same level. I have to go out there and compete and play five against five. The opportunity to do it at home with my kids and be with my family during the nights, and pick them up from school, that was pretty much the icing on the cake “You can’t ask for a much better situation than this. I’m glad we were able to find a solution with the Bullets.
Brisbane chief executive Sam Mackinnon, quoted in a press release, called Baynes “a game changer in the NBL”. It wasn’t that long ago that Baynes was a key NBA contributor. In fact, he’s less than three years away from his best NBA performance — he had 37 points and drained nine 3-pointers for the Suns in a single outing in 2020. Baynes and former NBA MVP James Harden are the only players in league history to have 35+ points, 15+ rebounds, and nine or more 3s in a game.
“I just go out and do what I’m known to do, how I play basketball – that’s what got me into the NBA to start,” Baynes said Thursday. “It’s about going out there and playing the right way every time I hit the ground and showing that I can still do what I was able to do before.”
Baynes was not selected in the 2009 NBA Draft and spent a few seasons as an international professional after a stellar career at WSU. The 6-foot-10 center tallied more than 1,000 points over four seasons from 2005-09, starting 86 college games and ending his WSU career with per-game averages of 8.7 points (on 54.6% of shots), 5.4 rebounds and 0.8 blocks. The Cougs have made back-to-back NCAA Tournament appearances in his final two seasons.
Baynes will make his official return to professional competition when Brisbane open their season on October 1.