By Laura Amato
Basketball, quite literally, saved Tyrone Hall’s life.
The Queens College junior guard was playing on West 4th Street, a normal pickup game in August 2015 until quite suddenly it wasn’t.
Hall was standing at mid-court – watching the opposing team take free throws – when he stumbled back and collapsed. He was out for nearly five minutes, heart stopped on the blacktop and when he woke up, he actually tried to start playing again.
He felt fine a day later two, after being run through the wringer of medical tests, certain it was just a heat stroke. Until, just like the game, he discovered it wasn’t.
The right side of Hall’s heart was damaged – the blood vessel on the right side of his body not fully formed. The only reason he hadn’t passed out – or worse – before was because of basketball. It helped keep him alive.
“The doctor said because I don’t drink or smoke and I work out that the left side of my heart developed so much muscle it allowed me to survive,” Hall said. “They showed me a picture of my heart and just looked like somebody had punched it. It was all shredded up.”
Hall had open heart surgery just days after he passed out on the court, only a few hours before he was originally slated to be discharged from the hospital. And while it was terrifying and the prospect of recovery was intimidating, Hall knew it was simply another challenge for him to overcome.
After all, that was normal him.
Hall, who grew up in Brooklyn, went to three different high schools as a kid, struggling to find consistency or the dedication to stay in class. That changed his senior year when he moved in with his aunt and uncle.
The rules were simple – go to class, get an allowance. So, Hall did just that. He went to class and, more importantly, went to the gym as well.
And he started playing basketball.
It was never serious, just a means of making friends, but two years after he graduated from Aspiration in 2010, Hall discovered basketball could also be a way out.
“I met this guy, Tippy McTernan, he’d get guys and help them out and get them in school,” Hall said.
“Tippy came up to me and told me I was ‘raw talent.’ I didn’t think I was that good,” Hall added, “and he asked me about playing college ball. I started laughing, I was like, I didn’t even play high school ball. You want me to play college ball?”
McTernan gave Hall the names of several coaches and Hall got in touch with Robert Haynes at Porterville College in California.
Haynes asked Hall to send him a tape of his game, but he didn’t have any film. He didn’t have a team. So, Hall came up with a plan – he’d make highlights.
“I went in the gym and I asked my best friend to record me,” Hall said. “It was just me shooting the ball and dunking the door. That was my highlight tape. Shooting the ball in the gym by myself.”
Hall went to California in 2013 – played two seasons at Porterville where he earned Rookie of the Year and all-league honors. And when he was done, he wasn’t just a street ball player anymore. He was a true basketball player with a sense of confidence he’d never once possessed in high school.
Hall had offers from a handful of Division I programs out of Porterville, but he wanted to come home and Queens College was a solid fit. Two days after he sent in his commitment letters, Hall collapsed on West 4th.
Doctors told him after his surgery it would take four to six weeks to recover – he was back on the court in three.
“I feel like I can breathe better,” Hall said of his post-surgery game. “I used to be able to play basketball, but only for a short period of time and I’d be very winded. Now I can play all day.”
In his first seven games this season, Hall is averaging 8.7 points, 2.4 rebounds and 1.6 assists. It’s never been easy, but as far as Hall is concerned, easy wouldn’t be normal for him.
And every challenge he’s faced has only fueled his fire, on and off the court. Now, he’s ready for whatever comes next.
“I want to win this season. I want to make the tournament and see how far that takes us,” Hall said. “And then I see myself playing ball overseas. I think I’m good enough.”