TODAY | February 21, 2011
SAVANNAH GUTHRIE, co-host: Back now at 8:37 with TODAY'S AMERICAN STORY WITH BOB DOTSON . It comes today from Chicago where a couple of high school buddies from the '80s are teaming up to take a giant step forward, getting a former NBA player bionic legs.
BOB DOTSON reporting: Anyone looking for wonder among the world's ordinary stuff should follow The Bone Mobile . Massive Mike Williams and Big Danny Ivankovich are taking it for a drive down Memory Lane .
Mr. MIKE WILLIAMS: Give me the ball, I'm going to the hole, baby. Took this path for, what, about four years every day.
DOTSON: Going to high school basketball games around Chicago . Mike and Dan played together on all-star teams. They were both good enough to turn pro. Massive Mike made it to the NBA , played for Sacramento and the Atlanta Hawks . Dan blew out his knee. The kid from Yugoslavia became a blues musician.
Dr. DANNY IVANKOVICH: And a flame-throwing guitar player.
DOTSON: Eight bullets brought the old teammates back together. On Thanksgiving weekend 2009 , Mike tried to break up a fight in an Atlanta nightclub.
Mr. WILLIAMS: And I started hearing shots and I felt one hit my back and my legs went straight numb. I'm thinking, 'Oh, man, not me, man, I can't go out like that. No way, man. Are you serious?'
DOTSON: A paramedic said the hospital was 18 minutes away.
Mr. WILLIAMS: 'Dude, hurry up, man, I ain't got 18 minutes, man, what are you doing, man, hurry up.'
DOTSON: Mike slipped into a coma for two months and woke up paralyzed from the waist down . He figured he'd be in a wheelchair the rest of his life. Then he saw a face he had not seen for 30 years on television saving children in Haiti .
Mr. WILLIAMS: That's Dan , big Dan.
DOTSON: The blues musician had become a world-class orthopedic surgeon. Maybe his old pal could get him walking again. Mike isn't totally paralyzed, but those eight bullets dusted bone shrapnel all over his nerve endings. Is pain the worst opponent you've ever had?
Mr. WILLIAMS: Pounds, man. And then the needles. All day long, every day.
DOTSON: The man who went one on one with the best in the NBA now battles his own inability.
Dr. IVANKOVICH: When I see Mike it's, you know, I feel it. Every step when these, you know, pains are going through his legs.
DOTSON: Mike 's life has become one long dental appointment without Novocaine . A series of operations should ease the agony, but Dan is trying for something more, the two playing basketball again.
Dr. IVANKOVICH: Because there are some old scores we got to settle, you know?
DOTSON: Long odds, but:
Dr. IVANKOVICH: Friendship is a -- is a powerful medicinal force.
DOTSON: When teamed with cutting-edge science. Dan called Berkeley Bionics , a company that's developing electronic legs. Computer-controlled man-made muscles got this paralyzed woman walking again, but Mike stands nearly seven feet tall.
Dr. IVANKOVICH: If you make this work for Mike Williams , it will work for everybody.
DOTSON: Massive Mike would test the limits of those robotic legs, none of the models built so far are strong enough to hold him, but one day when he puts them on he'll become a symbol of more than just senseless violence, he'll also be a testament to what teammates, old friends, can do.
Mr. WILLIAMS: He wants a chance to get back at me.
DOTSON: They're already trash talking about the bionic man's gain.
Dr. IVANKOVICH: See, I'm going to have, like, an e-legs override box, so I'm just going to -- it's going to be a kill switch, so he's going to be like going like -- all the sudden, ' Ooorahhh .'
DOTSON: Nobody wins this game because he's tall or strong, you need a team of friends to help you do better than you think you can. For TODAY , Bob Dotson , NBC News , with an AMERICAN STORY in Chicago .