In a basketball career where he specialised in overcoming obstacles, Lindsay Tait was not prepared for the biggest challenge of them all.

Shortly after the conclusion of the 2017 NZ National Basketball League season, where Tait made the playoffs for the 16th time in 18 seasons, Tait took some time away, jetting off to the United States.

On his return, he noticed something was wrong, and soon discovered a concerning lump in his throat. It was thyroid cancer, and, it had spread to his lymph nodes.

After winning seven titles and compiling 37 individual awards in his NBL career, Tait's basketball career looked over. Far worse than that – he believed his life was over.

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"When I was diagnosed and you even hear the use of the word cancer – you think you're going to die. I thought that was it," recalls Tait.

"All I was thinking about was my sons and my family. I was thinking 'I need to be here to see my sons to turn into men'.

"I wasn't ready to go yet."

On the 9th of October, Tait went under the knife, undergoing extensive surgery to remove his thyroid gland, and with it, the cancer.

Like he had done so many times on the court, Tait came out on top.

Tait will retire at the end of the 2018 NBL season, bringing a storied 18–year career to a close – a career which he is eternally grateful has extended an extra year.

Lindsay Tait about to school some unknown point guard off the dribble. Photo / Getty
Lindsay Tait about to school some unknown point guard off the dribble. Photo / Getty

Typically, a cancer battle calls careers to a close, but for Tait, it was quite the opposite. Once recovered from surgery, the 36-year-old point guard viewed his close call as having provided a "second chance at life" – and an opportunity to make a statement in one last season.

"It definitely changed my perspective on life and the game of basketball – I do not take for granted any time I'm able to open my eyes and go out and play basketball. I've always loved it but it's extra special now," says Tait.

Why come back for one last campaign? After all, the Avondale College product has nothing more to prove in the league – being arguably the NBL's most accomplished player, and having been the league's most consistent force for most of the century. Yet, despite that, Tait wanted to come back for a significant reason - to show his sons Mikaere and Marley how to approach adversity.

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"I have two young sons and they've been through this with me, especially my eldest who is 12 years old," explains Tait.

"I felt that it was important that he sees that when life puts something in front of you that's difficult, and you get knocked down, it's important you don't stay down. You get up, and you keep fighting. I wanted him to know the cloth that he's cut from – that's his DNA."

Lindsay Tait early in his NBL career. Photo / Getty
Lindsay Tait early in his NBL career. Photo / Getty

Tait has 15 games left in his NBL career – a career which will see him finish in the top 10 all-time in points, assists, and games played. While he has a few games he'd like back, there's nobody in the New Zealand basketball community who would deny Tait of his status as a NBL great, and he believes that is his crowning accomplishment.

"A lot of people say they have no regrets but there are things in my basketball career, decisions I've made and things I've done that I do regret, but I look back on my career and I smile, I'm at peace. I have the respect of my peers and ultimately that's all that I was fighting for."

Now, Tait is hoping to pass his experience on to the next generation, and give back to the game which gave him so much. He is taking the lead with the Basketball Auckland Talent Accelerator Programme – an opportunity for representative-level high school players to learn from the best.

It's a path that he didn't expect to be taking, but life has been full of those for Tait in the past few months. Both of his parents coached, and a piece of wisdom from his father proved prescient as Tait began his foray.

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"Basketball has given me a lot, and I never envisioned myself getting involved with coaching. When I was telling [my father] when I was younger that I'd never even consider coaching, he told me that it's the closest feeling you'll ever get to playing.

"Being involved for a short period now, I'd agree with that. There is a feeling of joy you get when you take a young talented kid and teach him something and see him do it; it's as exciting to me now as if I can pull it off myself."

After overcoming his off-court battle, Tait is making the most of his second chance to make an impact on the court.

"I'm not a religious man, but it is a blessing," he reflects.

"I just feel lucky every day that I get another chance to do this."

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To listen to Lindsay Tait talk about his recent challenges, future goals, and share some superb stories from his career, check out his appearance on the Classic NBL Podcast.