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The Godfather of Poker #1: Competitiveness, a promising NBA career and the accident that changed everything

An entire library shelf could be filled with the life and legacy of the legendary Doyle Brunson, and that's why we've prepared a series about his life story in his honor. We will start from the beginning, we will take a closer look at his childhood, family background and the accident that turned a promising NBA player into the biggest poker ambassador in the world.

Doyle Brunson was born on August 10, 1933 in Roby, Texas to Mealie and John Brunson. It was an area of ranches, vast empty prairies, and cotton plantations. The Brunsons lived on their cotton farm in the small town of Longworth, where only about 100 people lived - everyone knew everyone, people were willing to help each other in hard times, but there were practically no enemies. In addition to his parents, his older siblings - sister Lavada and brother Lloyd - also lived in the household. America was experiencing the Great Depression, finding work was difficult and many families had too tighten their belts.

"We didn't have electricity, running water or sewage in the house. We drank water from the cistern that was on the porch, from there we carried it in buckets to the house. We bathed in the bathtub outside, where the clothes were washed. When the tub was filled, everyone bathed in it, but I, as the youngest, was always the last to go. Electricity was introduced to us when I was about 7 years old, I only learned about the shower as a teenager. Life was not easy, but on the other hand, there were no thefts, fights or intrigues, parents were not worried about the children, and thanks to that we could spend whole days outside. From the age of 8-9 I was plucking and collecting cotton, but that's when I realized that I had a dream. A dream to leave the farm, go to university, find a good job and become somebody. Staying in a small town and working on a farm isn't going anywhere. I was determined to do everything I could to get out of there and change my life.”

The sprawling American countryside means that everything is far away. School, shop, lake and neighbor's children. Due to this fact, Doyle spent his entire childhood outdoors, running or cycling long kilometers during the day. In addition, the children spent whole days outside in various sports games, swimming or playing basketball, but it was here that the seed of competitiveness was sown in Doyle. As the young man grew up, his athletic ability improved rapidly thanks to these foundations. He started playing football in high school, but due to his short stature and the toughness of the sport, he quit after a while and switched to baseball. It wasn't any better there either, given Doyle's vision problems, but basketball was the third choice anyway.

The thin young man entered a promising basketball career with iconic glasses, but since he had very good athletic endurance, he was accepted into the team. He became a real star only thanks to puberty, during which he grew by almost 20 centimeters in one year at the age of 15, reaching 187 cm. A year later, he got stronger, gained muscle mass, and all the hours of training began to pay off - he became the best scorer in the school, later in the county, and after a while he became a national basketball star.

Young Doyle with number 22

The young man's achievements did not escape the attention of universities, but after finishing high school he received a sports scholarship to Hardin-Simmons University, where he started playing in the college league, which is very popular in America. As a rule, this league is watched by scouts from the best NBA teams, who fight here for promising future stars of the best basketball league in the world. Although Doyle's team lost in the playoffs in 1953, he scored 428 points during the season and was scouted by the Minneapolis Lakers after the final playoff game. His outstanding performance earned him an invitation to the NBA draft in 1954, opening the door to his dreams of professional basketball. Unfortunately, fate had other plans for him.

Since studying at the university was expensive despite the scholarship, Doyle had to find a job in addition to his studies and sports. He got it as a powerful guy in a plaster factory, where his job was handling and loading plasterboard panels into wagons. Well, during one such routine loading, literally everything went wrong. A forklift brought a batch of drywall to the wagon, and Doyle and a colleague loaded it into the wagon together. At that, a pile of boards began to fall to the ground and Doyle jumped at that moment, instinctively wanting to catch them. However, the whole pile weighed almost a ton, which ended up on Doyle.


“The planks falling from the cart landed squarely on my right leg and immediately knocked me to the ground. There was dust everywhere, but when it settled I saw my leg - both bones had cracked and were sticking out of the skin at a 90 degree angle. I didn't scream or cry - I felt a worse pain inside me than in my leg. Not only were my legs destroyed, but my dreams, hopes, and everything I had worked for my whole life. My life collapsed." Although the operation at the local hospital went well, Doyle had to walk on crutches for a year. During his recovery, his bones did not fuse properly, he had to undergo another operation, which only definitively sealed what he suspected - the end of his basketball dreams.

"It took a long time to put everything in order in my head and be able to face this fate. I couldn't play basketball anymore, but I still wanted to compete and win money. I came from a poor background and being rich was my strongest goal. I didn't know how to achieve it, so I finished studying business administration at school, I took the degree seriously and gave everything to my studies. After the weekends we played poker on intramurals, at that time 5-card draw and 7-card stud, where I won quite often and this pocket money always came to me. It was an additional scholarship, I enjoyed the money I won, but I never thought about poker as a long-term or stable income. After school, I started working for Burroughs Corporation, a company that sold accounting aids and calculators. This brought me to rough Fort Worth, one of the most dangerous places far and wide. I would never have imagined where this road would lead me..."

Source: TexasMonthly, autobiography The Godfather of Poker, Wikipedia