| D'Antoni had a good opponent,
Jianguo Wang, who made him run around and sweat pretty good.
On paper, the two finalists had little in common. D'Antoni,
34, was born and raised in Louisville, and runs his own embroidery
and screen printing store. Wang was raised in southern China,
near Hong Kong. He lived in Japan and Germany before settling
in upstate New York, and now works as a polymer scientist
But scratch the surface, and you'll discover these two
were brought together in Orlando by more than a passion
for sports. They were both saved by a stranger's generosity,
and share a profound appreciation for their renewed lives.
Fifteen years ago, D'Antoni was a 20-year-old University
of Louisville student, doing rigorous landscaping work in
the summertime and giving blood on a regular basis. It was
during one of those donations that nurses discovered D'Antoni's
hemoglobin was dangerously low. D'Antoni, who was born with
only one kidney, realized why he seemed to feeling uncharacteristically
sluggish, and soon thereafter had to be put on dialysis.
D'Antoni's life changed on January 15, 1987, at 6:30 in
the morning. That's when he received a second kidney from
the family of a deceased young man in Augusta, Georgia.
D'Antoni's energy returned, he went back to school and started
pursuing his dream of running his own business. On December
26, 1992, he married Traci, who has come to cheer him on
the badminton courts and golf courses of Orlando.
"I'm just thankful for every day," he says. "I'm more
appreciative of even small things. When a McDonald's commercial
can make you cry, that's probably the threshold for appreciation."
On the other side of the globe, Jianguo Wang was on the
fast track, graduating first in his college class and earning
a Ph.D. at age 24 back in China. He was equally ambitious
in athletics, where he prided himself on being among the
best badminton players and swimmers in his crowd, which
included the post-doctoral gang at Cornell University in
Ithaca, New York.
A year-and-a-half ago, however, Wang noticed his badminton
skills decline precipitously. "I just thought I was getting
old, tired," says Wang, a married father of a 10-year-old
son, Guannan. But when he started his new job at Corning,
the required physical exam revealed Wang's kidneys were
functioning at only about 25-percent of their potential.
"I figured, forget it, I can get by on 25-percent," Wang
says. But six months later, Wang's kidneys were working
at only ten-percent, forcing Wang to start dialysis in July
But on February 13, 1999, Wang received a kidney from
a 22-year-old college student named Beth. Wang has since
written to her parents, Pat and Ken and her sister Kate,
to thank them and tell them about his career, his family,
and his passion for sports, which has been born anew.
"The transplant changed my life, and my ideas about life,"
Wang says. "In China, I would not be able to get through
this. America give me second life. When I saw the donor
families come out at the opening ceremonies, I was crying.
Wang has been in perfect health since receiving his transplant,
and, according to his wife and son, now focuses more on
his family than before. Likewise, D'Antoni says, "I've never
had any problems since then."
Except, perhaps, for his opponent in the badminton finals.
"I got beat 15-2, 15-3, I think," D'Antoni confessed,
but his wife corrected him. "Sorry, honey, it was 15-2,
D'Antoni shrugged, and grinned. "I guess he ate a better