Michael Lay has bounced around from the “rough” streets of Compton and South Central in Los Angeles, to Mexico and Germany, but it is Bunbury where his basketball journey has helped him score a life he never imagined.
The 35-year-old father-of-two and State Basketball League stalwart has lapped up every opportunity thrown his way in a life which has well and truly pivoted around the sport he loves.
Like many, sport – and for Michael in particular, basketball – started out as an avenue of distraction or escape.
“I spent half my childhood in Compton, which is pretty rough, and the other half in South Central, which is even rougher,” he said.
“Sport was like the saving grace to protect you from what was in your neighbourhood, so I developed a love for basketball at 13 and haven’t really looked back since.”
After graduating from Concordia University in Portland, Michael made his way to Monterrey, Mexico, to play basketball before his sporting pathway led him to Geraldton in 2007 when he played two seasons for the Buccaneers.
From there Michael went on to play in Germany for three seasons, before he was lured back to Australia for another two seasons in Geraldton.
He has left his mark on the league with stints at Perry Lakes and now with the PrintSync South West Slammers where he is lending his invaluable life and sport experience as captain.
His inspiring career reached a milestone at the weekend when he played his 200th league game.
“It’s pretty special, when I look back and go ‘how did I get here?’ – I’m really fortunate that I’m still able to play the game that I love, at my age,” Michael says of the achievement.
“There are people with much more talent than I have and so I feel very fortunate that I’ve been able to do more for myself and create more opportunities for my family,”
“I just never thought I’d be in Australia to celebrate 200 games, so that’s amazing.
“I’ve played with three clubs, which is also beautiful and the friendships that you build from playing is probably the thing that I’ll always take away and cherish because that’ll be a lifetime – basketball is a small window, but those friendships will go forever.”
Proving that basketball has moulded Michael’s life as he took every opportunity by the horns, the impact on his personal and work life is obvious.
“It’s been natural, I’ve just always followed my love, what I love doing and opportunities have sort of flowed on from that,” he says of his basketball-crammed life.
“At the heart of it, you wake up every day doing what you love and there’s nothing better than doing that.
“Even my job now with Clontarf, that stemmed from my relationships at basketball and it opened up opportunities which brought me here to Bunbury so then I could reconnect with basketball.”
Michael is a regional manager for the Clontarf Foundation – an academy for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander boys.
“Clontarf, I feel, is like my life calling ... just knowing you’re making an impact at a real grassroots level is really rewarding,” he said.
It was even through basketball clinics in Geraldton where he met the love of his life and now wife, Natasha.
The pair have been married for 10 years and have two children, Macey, 3, and Marlow, 10 months.
It is a life Michael never imagined for himself, but one he clearly thrives in.
Back in 2007 I just thought I’d play here for a couple years then go to Europe and end up back home – I never thought I’d be married with a family, the house, the career,” he laughs.
And it is his family which has inspired him to take on his next challenge, putting his hat in the ring for this year’s Bunbury City Council election.
“I think after my son was born, I sort of realised how much I love Bunbury,” he said.
“I always think about the impact I can make, whether it’s through work or basketball or whatever and I started thinking about ‘how can I make an impact in Bunbury while I’m here if we’re going to be here for a while’.
“And then I started looking at my kids and thinking I would love for my kids to be able to have a better Bunbury or grow up in a better environment than what I grew up in and I would even like to take it a step further and contribute to that.
“I think through a realisation that I want to have personal growth and also help realise some of the city’s potential, it sort of sparked my interest.”