Landon Turner: Triumphing Through Tragedy, A Journey To The 1982 NBA Draft And Beyond

Indy Star


In the annals of basketball history, there are tales of resilience, determination, and the power of the human spirit that transcend the realm of sports. Landon Turner’s story embodies all these elements and more. Rising from the depths of tragedy, Turner, a star player from Indiana University, captivated the nation with his exceptional skills on the court and an indomitable spirit off it. Today, we delve into the inspiring journey of Landon Turner, a young man who has transformed personal hardship into triumph, culminating in a remarkable NBA Draft selection.

Turner was destined to become a basketball star, and according to legendary Hoosiers coach Bob Knight he had the potential to be the best player he ever coached. Then, tragedy struck.

On that fateful summer morning of July 26, 1981, the promising basketball career of Turner faced a devastating crossroad. Driving along Indiana State Road 46 near Columbus, Indiana, Turner’s car veered out of control on a treacherous curve, flipping over in a violent crash. The incident occurred during a trip to Kings Island amusement park in Ohio, accompanied by three close friends who, too, suffered injuries in the tragic event.

It was later revealed that Turner had not been wearing a seatbelt at the time of the accident, compounding the severity of his injuries. Emergency responders swiftly transported him to Bartholomew County Hospital in Columbus, before he was swiftly transferred to Indiana University Health Methodist Hospital. As news of the accident spread, Bob Knight cut short his summer fishing vacation in Idaho and hastened back to Indiana, standing by Turner’s side, along with his family, during this arduous time.

The extent of Turner’s injuries was harrowing. His spine was fractured, leaving him with a sense of paralysis in his hands and legs. Miraculously, over time, the full use of his arms and hands returned, testament to his unyielding determination and unwavering spirit. However, the same could not be said for his legs, which were left permanently paralyzed due to the injury sustained low in his back.

Enduring a grueling four-month stay in the hospital, Turner exhibited an extraordinary strength of character that inspired all who knew him. It was during this period of recovery that a bond forged between Turner and Coach Knight transcended the realms of player and coach, evolving into a relationship akin to that of a father and son. Knight recognized Turner’s resilience and named him team captain of the Hoosiers for the upcoming 1981-82 season, a testament to the unwavering belief in his abilities.

As Turner emerged from the confines of the hospital and returned to his parents’ house, he carried with him a newfound perspective on life and an unquenchable thirst to overcome the adversities that lay before him. The crash may have shattered his dreams of a conventional basketball career, but it could never break his indomitable spirit.

In the face of unimaginable hardship, Landon Turner’s resilience continued to shine as a beacon of hope and inspiration. His journey was far from over, and the next chapter would redefine the limits of his potential, transcending the confines of the basketball court to impact lives far beyond the realm of sports.

Then, exactly 42 years ago today, the Boston Celtics honored Turner by drafting him with the last pick of the 1982 NBA Draft. According to rumors, Bobby Knight attended pre-draft camps in Chicago the spring after Turner’s injury and suggested to Celtics coach Red Auerbach that they should consider drafting Turner as a symbolic gesture. The Celtics agreed, but didn’t tell turner in advance, leaving the latter completely surprised.


“It was a complete surprise. It was close to my heart when they drafted me,” Turner said years later.  “Red did send me a couple championship watches — from ’84 and ’86 — which was very nice.  I have them to this day. They are in my safe right now.”


Beyond the confines of the basketball court, Turner has used his platform to advocate for mental health awareness and support. Recognizing the importance of addressing trauma and providing resources for those in need, he has become a beacon of hope for countless individuals who have faced adversity. Turner’s story has touched lives far beyond the realm of sports, inspiring others to persevere in the face of unimaginable challenges.

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