Princeton alumnus David Blatt announces diagnosis of multiple sclerosis

Princeton alumnus David Blatt has had a successful coaching career but announced his battle with multiple sclerosis earlier this week. (Princeton Athletics)

David Blatt, a 1981 graduate of Princeton and head coach of Greek club Olympiacos, took to the website of his present team on Monday to issue a statement regarding the news that he was recently diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.

“A few months ago I was diagnosed with PPMS, primary progressive multiple sclerosis. Τhis is a disease that has many forms and manifests itself in different ways to different people” posted Blatt in the opening of his statement. “It is an autoimmune system disease that can and does in many ways change your quality of life and ability to do even the most basic of functions in ways that have always seemed normal to you.”

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a chronic disease of the central nervous system, which includes the brain and spinal cord.  In MS, a person’s immune system attacks nerve cells and the fatty sheath surrounding them, causing scarring.  This scar tissue blocks communication between the brain and the body, which leads to problems with movement, vision and cognition.

Most individuals with MS are diagnosed between the ages of 20 and 50, but a smaller number (4-5 percent) have late-onset MS where the symptoms manifest after 50.  The majority of younger people with the disease have relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis (RRMS), characterized by bouts of disability alternating with periods of normal functioning.  Older individuals, like the 60-year old Blatt, tend to have PPMS, which has a slow and steady decline in function that often occurs at a faster rate than those with adult-onset MS.

After the diagnosis, which was done during the latter part of last season with the assistance of the Olympiacos medical staff, Blatt relied on his traits as a coach to find a way to deal with this serious condition.

“How do we fix it? Well, we go to work. We make a plan. We work hard every day. We keep our head up. We adjust, adapt, modify and seek ways to improve or maintain,” said the coach.  To that end, Blatt will be working on his strength and conditioning, as well as continuing with his bench duties for Olympiacos.

Blatt attended Princeton from 1977 to 1981, playing on the varsity team in his last three seasons.  He took part in 80 games and started 57 for Pete Carril’s Tigers, averaging 5.1 points, 2.5 rebounds and 1.4 assists per game.

The 1980 team was Ivy co-champs with Penn at 11-3, but lost the playoff game, 50-49, to the Quakers.  The 1981 squad, co-captained by Blatt, went 13-1 and won the conference outright.  The Tigers were knocked out of the NCAA Tournament in the first round by Danny Ainge’s Brigham Young Cougars, which would go on to make an improbable run to the Elite Eight.

Following his graduation in the summer of 1981, Blatt led the USA to a gold medal in the Maccabi Games.  Later that same year, the point guard from Massachusetts moved to Israel, joining the Israeli army and playing professionally in the country’s Super League.

After his nine-year career ended due to injury at the conclusion of the 1992-93 season, Blatt began coaching in the Super League for Hapoel Galil Elyon.  Over the next 12 years, he would work as a head or assistant coach for teams in Israel, Russia, Italy and Greece, as well as the national teams of Russia and Israel.

In 2012, Blatt coached the Russian national team to a bronze medal in the London Olympic Games.  He then led Macabi Tel Aviv to the EuroLeague championship in 2014, before venturing to the NBA to take over the Cleveland Cavaliers.  In his first year coaching back home, the Cavs went 53-29 and made it to the Finals, losing 4-2 to the Golden State Warriors.

Despite having the Eastern Conference’s best record at 30-11 in the first half of the 2015-2016 campaign, Blatt lost the confidence of Cavs’ superstar LeBron James and was dismissed by general manager David Griffin on Jan. 22, 2016.

Blatt returned to Europe, taking charge of Darussafaka of the Turkish League in the summer of 2016.  He brought the team to the EuroLeague quarterfinals in 2017 and won a EuroCup championship in 2018.  After taking that title, Blatt moved to Olympiacos of the Greek Basketball League on a two-year contract.

Facing the biggest challenge of his life, Blatt will continue doing what he does best and try to live by the words of legendary coach John Wooden, which Blatt noted at the end of his statement: “Things work out best for people who make the best of how things work out.  My condition is no picnic but many have it tougher. It’s my responsibility to be an example for all to continue to live their life in the best way possible and to never, ever, ever give in or give up”.

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