NewsMen's Wheelchair BasketballSteve Serio

In Quest For Fifth Paralympics, Wheelchair Hoops Veteran Steve Serio Is Still Out To Prove He Belongs

by Bob Socci

Steve Serio competes in a men's wheelchair basketball game during the Parapan American Games Santiago 2023 on Nov. 22, 2023 in Santiago, Chile. (Photo by Mark Reis)

In the middle of a whirlwind week, Steve Serio is exactly where he needs to be: within reach of where he wants to be.

Serio is back in his self-described second home, at the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Training Center, having flown from Milan to New York to Colorado Springs, Colorado, in the past four days. On Saturday, he was named to his fifth Paralympic Team for the Paris Paralympic Games 2024.

At 36, Serio is a four-time Paralympian and three-time medalist. Since a fourth-place finish at the Paralympic Games Beijing 2008, he’s helped Team USA earn bronze in London and gold in back-to-back Games at the Paralympic Games Rio 2016 and Parlymic Games Tokyo 2020, where, as co-captain, Serio scored 28 points vs. host Japan in the final. Still, as he centers himself between reflection and anticipation on the last Wednesday of March, as one of 16 players on a roster that will soon be pared down to a dozen (plus four alternates), Serio takes nothing for granted.

“I’m hopeful that I will be one of those 12 athletes. I’ve always come in with the mindset that I have a job to do, to not only lead the team, but to prove that I belong on Team USA.”

It’s why Serio was in Milan, as the lone American on Italy’s professional powerhouse Briantea 84, playing with and against a number of individuals likely to compete in Paris. Serio’s squad won the Coppa Italia in January, before capturing the country’s Serie A title last weekend.

He believes his overseas experience has prepared him well for the months ahead, despite dealing with an injury that kept him out of Briantea 84’s March 23 finale, leaving Serio to exert his leadership from the sideline.

“I’ve learned that true leadership is not about doing,” said Serio, who is originally of Westbury, New York. “It’s not about taking the reins and having to take the biggest shot in every game. It’s about empowering those around you. To help them discover parts of themselves that they didn’t even know existed.”

Steve Serio avoids a defender in a men's wheelchair basketball game during the Parapan American Games Santiago 2023 on Nov. 22, 2023 in Santiago, Chile. (Photo by Mark Reis)

“The last two Paralympic Games, we’ve had very, very similar teams,” Serio said of the mostly veteran group that won gold under the legendary Ron Lykins, who retired from international coaching and was succeeded as the national team’s head coach by Robb Taylor in 2022. “The thing I’m most excited about for this team, no matter who they pick for Paris, it will be a blend of old guys that have been there and done it, and also some new young talent that is hungry.”

Between today and tip-off of the Paralympic tournament at the Bercy Arena on Aug. 29, Team USA will stage a series of training camps in Colorado Springs and participate in a pair of “friendly” tournaments. As reigning world champions, thanks to a win over Great Britain in Dubai, UAE, last summer, the Americans will reach Paris as a favored gold-medal contender confronted by more than capable challengers.

“When I started on Team USA in Beijing, there were only maybe three or four teams in the world that could realistically win a gold medal,” said Serio, wearing a red T-shirt reading “United States” in white lettering. “And now, in Paris, they’ll be the top eight teams in the world, and if things break right, you can see almost any of them coming home with a gold medal.

“We have high expectations for basketball in our country. We wouldn’t want it any other way. And we want the best the world has to offer. We’ll be ready for the challenge the world has in Paris.”

Should he make it to France, Serio’s already decided that his fifth will be his final Paralympics. Since his first, he’s been at the center of his sport’s growth and experienced increased support and exposure from the United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee and its partners. His goal now is to make it more accessible.

“I didn’t even know wheelchair basketball existed growing up,” said Serio, whose discovery of it at age 15 liberated him from disability. A benign spinal tumor, undiagnosed until he was 11 months old, became infected and inflamed; surgery to remove it resulted in the compression of his spinal cord, leaving him partially paralyzed.

“I will not accept that as an excuse now, because with all the channels that we have, there is an athletic endeavor for every person, regardless of whether or not they have a disability. And it’s up to athletes like us to help create an environment where those people feel comfortable exploring those endeavors.”

So, Serio works toward one more Paralympics, sharing the story of how the opportunity to play a game someone loves can set them free. And, in his case, see the world, while being seen for what he is rather than what he isn’t.

“Wheelchair basketball has given me everything that I have in this world,” Serio said. “It’s great to be able to call myself a gold medalist and a Paralympian, but the first thing I want to be described as when people remember me is I just want to be an athlete. I just want to be somebody who was provided the environment to chase down their athletic dreams, even though I have a disability. That’s what I hope people remember.”