For more than 35 years, Norris Bell has lived for the game of basketball - as a top-level player, a prominent coach and mentor. And he hasn't taken one minute of that success for granted.
Bell, the new head coach and general manager of the Moncton Miracles, comes from a poor background, having grown up in a household of nine siblings in a two-bedroom home with no father figure around. He knows that, without basketball, he wouldn't have had the opportunities he has had throughout his career.
"That was my way out," he said during a visit to Marshview Middle School last Thursday evening, one of many community youth speaking engagements he has made over the past few weeks.
Bell said he tries to encourage more youth to take advantage of the opportunities that are available. He always tells them, however, that in order to succeed, they're going to need a positive outlook.
"Your attitude is how you're going to determine your altitude . . . how far you make it depends on how bad you want to be good," he said.
The Atlanta, Georgian said from a young age he worked hard to earn his way up in the sport, training relentlessly even though he wasn't the fastest or biggest player. And he encouraged the Sackville-area youth last week to do the same, to "just be the best you can be at it."
Bell said he is a strong believer in community outreach programs. He understands he has a responsibility as a professional sports personality to make a positive impact on the community.
"I'm where I'm at today because of my attitude and I don't take that for granted. That's why I'm going to continue to give back."
As a young boy, Bell's sport of choice was football but, when he was sidelined with an injury, he soon turned to basketball. In high school, he excelled in the sport beyond everyone's expectations and continued on to play at Gardner Webb College in Boiling Springs, NC.
In the spring of 1983, while attending the Atlanta Police Academy, Bell was given the opportunity to sign on as free agent with the Atlanta Hawks. He then went on to play professional basketball in Europe for 13 years, where he gained accolades while playing in both France and Switzerland. While there, he became fluent in French and even learned some Italian.
Upon his return to Atlanta, Bell began a successful coaching career with the Atlanta Celtics, a basketball traveling team in the AAU program. A two-time AAU coach of the year and an original member of the Nike Skill Academy, Bell has trained hundreds of Atlanta high school players, helping them develop their skills both on and off the court.
Now, in his latest role as coach of the Moncton Miracles - one of seven teams within the new National Basketball League of Canada - Bell is excited about developing a strong, grassroots basketball program in the region.
The Moncton Miracles, whose inaugural season kicks off Oct. 29 when they visit the Quebec Kebs, are beginning their training this week and Bell said he will be focusing his efforts on selecting players who will work hard and be team players.
"Putting a team together is like putting the pieces of a puzzle together," he said. "You've got to have the right mix . . . see which pieces fit."
Along with the Moncton Miracles, the NBL Canada's other teams are the Saint John Mill Rats, Summerside Storm, Halifax Rainmen, Quebec Kebs, London Lightning and Oshawa Power.
The Miracles will play their home opener against Saint John on Nov. 20 at the Moncton Coliseum. Bell announced last week that each of their home games in the regular season will be a School Pride Night - or, in Sackville's case, a Community Pride Night, where all the students from the area schools will get free tick