Basketball superstar

‘A gentleman, a donor, a legend’: friends and fans mourn basketball superstar Kenny McFadden

Saints assistant coach Kenny McFadden with the number five jersey that was retired in his honor, in 2010.

PHOTOSPORT

Saints assistant coach Kenny McFadden with the number five jersey that was retired in his honor, in 2010.

The man who donated a kidney to Wellington basketball superstar Kenny McFadden, who died aged 61, says he did it to give to his ‘best friend’ more time to do what he loved.

Aaron Tait-Jones (Ngāti Ruapani, Ngāti Kahungunu, Ngāi Tūhoe, Te Arawa) donated the organ to McFadden – who suffered from polycystic kidney disease – in 2018.

“I’m just sorry it wasn’t more than four years, but it’s been an absolute honor.”

Aaron Tait-Jones (left) coaches with Kenny McFadden (right) in Las Vegas.

Provided

Aaron Tait-Jones (left) coaches with Kenny McFadden (right) in Las Vegas.

Tait-Jones described McFadden as his “childhood idol” and when his own son wanted to become a professional basketball player, he sought out McFadden to coach him.

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It was Tait-Jones’s wife who suggested he get tested for donor compatibility when McFadden’s health issues worsened. For Tait-Jones, it was a “straightforward decision” and he just wished it was longer.

He said he was inundated with messages, describing McFadden as “a gentleman, a giver, a legend”. “It’s a big loss. I am eternally grateful for his legacy.

NBA LEAGUE PASS

Steven Adams delivered an exceptional performance just hours after the death of his mentor Kenny McFadden.

McFadden was part of the first wave of American imports to come to New Zealand in the early 1980s. He rocked the scene with his brilliant playing, endearing himself to fans with his broad smile and outgoing personality.

Wellington’s ‘Mr Basketball’ – Nick Mills – was the man who brought McFadden to Wellington to join the struggling Exchequer Saints.

“He put us on his shoulders and he took us to four national championships. He was New Zealand’s first basketball superstar,” said Mills, a longtime Saints franchise owner and Wellington businessman and radio host.

Wellington teenager Steven Adams with his former coach Kenny McFadden, before embarking on a glittering <a class=NBA career.” style=”width:100%;display:inline-block”/>

Phil Reid / Stuff

Wellington teenager Steven Adams with his former coach Kenny McFadden, before embarking on a glittering NBA career.

McFadden’s overtime shot that won the Saints national championship in 1985 was watched by nearly a third of the country.

He won four titles with the Saints; he scored over 5,000 points in an NBL career that spanned 252 games. His No. 5 shirt was retired in his honor and hangs from the rafters in the Saints club room.

“Everyone was equal to him, he didn’t care if you were a multimillionaire or a kid who didn’t have lunch, he treated them the same. As long as you wanted to have a basketball in your hand, he wanted to help you,” Mills said.

Wellington's 'Mr Basketball' Nick Mills has called Kenny McFadden a 'superstar'.

Monique Ford / Stuff

Wellington’s ‘Mr Basketball’ Nick Mills has called Kenny McFadden a ‘superstar’.

He said he was inundated with texts and tributes at the news of McFadden’s death.

He was particularly touched by a message he received from former Breakers and current Tall Blacks coach Paul Henare.

“He said ‘once a Saint, always a Saint’ and it brought tears to my eyes.”