Anthony Fauci: 60 years of leadership, from the court to COVID-19

Photo of Dr. Anthony S. Fauci
Lane Rasberry/Creative Commons

Related Posts

Standing at just 5’7”, “athletic” is not the first word that comes to mind when describing Dr. Anthony Fauci. His familiar gray-white hair that accompanies his 79 years doesn’t quite portray him as “athletic” either. Perhaps “wise,” “infectious disease expert” or “trusted medical figure” better fit the bill — as they should.

Fauci graduated first in his class from Cornell University’s medical school in 1966 and has since conducted revolutionizing research in the fight against HIV/AIDS, Ebola and now COVID-19. Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases since 1984, Fauci has a voice of reason that’s colloquial and comforting as our country remains at the reins of the deadly disease and a polarizing government.

But holding an integral leadership position is nothing new for Fauci. In fact, it is a role that he’s played for more than 60 years, beginning in the athletic realm. Long before leading the United States through a pandemic, “Fauch” captained Regis High School’s varsity basketball team his senior year, highlighted by leading the 1-16 squad to victory over a talented Fordham Prep and its now NBA-notable Donnie Walsh.

“(Fauci) takes charge of the situation — he directs his teammates, he creates plays and he’s the one who, at the end of the game (when) it’s going to be close, you want him to have the ball,” said former teammate and Regis alum John Zeman on a podcast with ESPN. “Rally around him, and he will do everything he can to help you win.”

Not only did Fauci foster excellent team morale, but his statline wasn’t too shabby either. He averaged 10.2 points per game in his final season as point guard and was known for his exemplary ballhandling skills and pesky defending.

Luckily for us, Fauch eventually set out for the National Institutes of Health, rather than the NBA. However, he remains a fan.

On March 26, just weeks after California’s shelter-in-place order was enacted and sports had come to a halt, three-time NBA champion and Golden State Warriors star Stephen Curry hosted Fauci for a Q&A session on Instagram Live. The two discussed how the coronavirus differs from the flu and the different types of social distancing measures that should be practiced. Many, including Barack Obama, commended Curry for utilizing his platform to spread accurate COVID-19 information to demographics that may not have tuned in to Fauci otherwise. Others found delight in the mini basketball hoop alongside the stacks of books and the wall of awards in Fauci’s background.

“I love that Fauci has a hoop up in his office. Once a hooper, always a hooper,” tweeted former Los Angeles Times sports journalist Arash Markazi.

In addition to Fauci’s storied basketball career, the infectious disease expert recently dabbled in baseball on the national stage, performing the ceremonial first pitch for the MLB 2020 season in Washington, D.C., before the game between the Washington Nationals and New York Yankees. Wearing his Nationals jersey and his mask, of course, Fauci being on the mound was fitting, as the season opener had been delayed months because of COVID-19. However, he would be quick to admit that he was unable to channel the same success he had found against Walsh years ago. Though no fans were there to witness the toss in person, baseball followers and Twitter users alike shared a laugh after his very low and very outside pitch went viral.

“Instead of doing my normal motion of just lobbing the ball, which would’ve been the best thing to do, I thought: Oh, baby, I better put a lot of different oomph into it,” Fauci said upon realizing the plate was a lot farther away than what he thought he had practiced from. “And I did. And you saw what happened. … It went as a line drive toward first base.”

But a pitch right down the middle would not have matched 2020’s script of unprecedented twists and turns. Fauci’s humorous explanation was on par with his venerable character.

While his basketball (and baseball) career may be behind him, Fauci has upheld his athletic profile with lunchtime runs to break up his 19-hour workday. With three marathons under his belt, including a personal best of 3 hours, 37 minutes at the 1984 Marine Corps Marathon, it seems as though there is nothing Fauci cannot do.

Although Fauci is beloved for his remarkable leadership, reassuring demeanor and dedication to fighting disease, his athletic career only underlines the fact that from the basketball court to COVID-19, there is no task too tall for Fauch and his 5’7” frame.

Allie Coyne writes for Bear Bytes. Contact her at [email protected].