In an instant - the blink of an eye, really - life changed forever for Bobby Hurley. Now, it can never be quite the same.
One moment, he was a hotshot NBA rookie, the centerpiece in the reconstruction of the Sacramento Kings. The next moment, he was face down in a roadside ditch, ambulance sirens ringing in his ears, flashing lights all around him.
As Hurley balanced precariously on the slender thread between life and death, he faced the common denominator that ultimately reduces even the greatest athlete to a simple human being, prone to the dangers that face us all.
It can be a humbling experience.
An unthinking moment
The Kings had lost that night, one more loss in a season full of them. Hurley was not accustomed to that. He had always won, first at St. Anthony's High School in Jersey City, N.J., where his team won two state championships, then at Duke, where he helped the Blue Devils win two NCAA championships.
Now Hurley was driving down a darkened country road, driving away from another Sacramento loss, driving the way he routinely did, without engaging his seat belt. Hey, when you're 22, a pro athlete, a winner all your life, you don't think about seat belts.
That's when the collision occurred.
Counting his blessings
That could easily have been the end of his story. Hurley's car was pancaked. He has seen pictures of it and they send shudders through him.
He was thrown 100 feet into the ditch, his lungs collapsed. He had broken ribs, a fractured shoulder blade, a compression fracture of his lower back, a torn tendon in his right knee and soft tissue injuries. He was a mess.
And then, at the worst moment in his young life, Bobby Hurley got lucky.
"I consider myself blessed," he said softly. "I replay the situation a lot. Everything was in place for me to live through it. I was on a dark road that not many people use and yet there was a car 30 seconds ahead of me who saw what happened and was able to come back and find me an ambulance quickly. I was lucky someone was there to help."
The driver in front of the accident was Mike Batham. "I owe so much to him," Hurley said. "There's no way to repay him. He saved my life. He told me some of the things I was yelling like my girlfriend's name. He was worried she was in the car with me. He said I asked how the other person was. I was not real coherent."
Teammate arrived to help
Now, if it was unusual for one other car to be traveling on that side road that night, it was even more unusual for another one to be behind Hurley, this one driven by teammate Mike Peplowski. He, too, saw the accident and rushed up to discover Hurley.
"Peplowski happened to be going the same way and seeing me," Hurley said. "I didn't have much recollection of the the accident, just the moment before the impact and then laying in the ditch, seeing Peplowski, feeling terrible."
Help arrived quickly. "I was so scared I wasn't going to live," Hurley said.
Now, he got lucky again. At the emergency room of UC Davis Medical Center, Dr. William Blaisdell was on duty. "The week before, the doctor on call read an article on the injury I had," Hurley said. "He diagnosed it quickly and repaired it.
"There were so many coincidences that helped me that night."
The next day, when Hurley opened his eyes, a doctor asked if he could move his legs. "I was able to move them and I was able to wiggle my toes," he said. "That's when I realized that I would be able to play again."
Hoping for another miracle
Hurley hopes he can regain the quicksilver speed that made him such a special point guard, the attitude that convinced him he could beat you, and the sense that said he knew it and so did you.
If Hurley stays lucky, all that may be the same. Other things, though, have changed.
"I appreciate things a lot more every day," he said. "I appreciate that I'm alive. I was so close to not being on this earth."
While Hurley was in the hospital, Batham visited him. They talked about how fate had brought them together on that dark road three weeks ago. "He said he hoped that if I was in the same situation, I'd do the same thing he did," Hurley said.
"I hope I would."