NBA veteran Tony Snell reveals autism diagnosis at 31: 'It was like a clarity'

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(KTLA) – A ten-year NBA veteran is coming forward to share his recent autism diagnosis at the age of 31.

Tony Snell, who played in the NBA between 2013 and 2022, shared his story with Today show reporter Craig Melvin.

Snell revealed to Melvin that autism had affected his family in more than one way.

Snell and he wife Ashley noticed that their son, Carter, was missing some important developmental milestones. At 18 months, he wasn’t talking, and was showing signs of stimming — a term used to describe “self-stimulatory behaviors” that include repetitive movements and sounds, according to the National Autism Society.

Snell and Ashley said Carter is always on the move and often has “six or seven toys in his hands,” one of which is always a basketball.

Their doctor recommended Carter be tested for autism, which revealed a positive diagnosis. Seeing similarities between himself and his child, Snell opted to get tested as well.

“I was always independent growing up, always been alone. I just couldn’t connect with people on the personal side of things,” Snell said.

Snell said the diagnosis answered many questions he’d been carrying around his entire life.

“I was not surprised because I always felt different,” Snell said. “I was just relieved, like, ‘Ah, this, why I am the way I am.’ And it just made my whole life, everything about my life makes so much sense. It was like a clarity.”

Snell, who was born in the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles, says basketball was always an escape for him — an escape from the streets of South Central L.A., and an escape from feeling like an outsider.

Snell ultimately managed to reach the pinnacle of his beloved sport, defying the odds to become a professional basketball player; a near-impossible task for most athletes.

Snell starred at the University of New Mexico and was selected in the first round of the 2013 NBA Draft by the Chicago Bulls. He’s played for five different NBA teams and has established himself as an extremely reliable shooter from the free-throw line and beyond the arc, as well as a no-nonsense defender. Behind the scenes, he has a reputation as a calm and quiet locker room presence.

He’s hoping that coming forward with his diagnosis will inspire other kids and adults to get tested themselves, and show them that you can still achieve your dreams, even if you feel different.

“I want to change lives and inspire people. I want to make sure my son knows that I have his back. When I was a kid, I felt different. But now, I can show him that, ‘I’m right here with you. We’re gonna ride this thing together. We’re gonna grow together and you’re gonna you’re gonna accomplish a lot of things,'” Snell said.

The Snell family is partnering with the Special Olympics to get the message out, and the Tony Snell Foundation will be helping families in inner cities and children of color get better access to autism services, which can often be unattainable and unaffordable by those who need it most.

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