Photo of a man holding a basketball above his shoukder
Abel Putu. Photo by Street Sense Media

Abel Putu, a Street Sense Media vendor, has always been passionate about basketball.  

Putu plays for the MedStar NRH Punishers, a Division I wheelchair basketball team under the National Wheelchair Basketball Association.

“I want NBA players to hear my story [on] ESPN [and] NBA TV … because I’ve been through a lot,” Putu said. 

Putu came to the United States from Ghana as a refugee from Liberia when he was 19. Now, he said he’s very proud to be a citizen. Putu grew up with the Liberian civil war as a backdrop. Growing up in conflict was difficult, Putu said. His father died in the war, which was hard on him. 

“It brought a lot of pain,” he said. 

Putu first experienced homelessness in 2005 after losing a job. Since then, he’s struggled, he said, but now has housing. He’s currently trying to move downtown because the sidewalks are more accessible compared to where he lives now, he said. 

But through these tough times, basketball has been a positive constant in his life, he said. 

“That made me stronger,” he said. 

Putu joined Street Sense Media a few years ago after meeting a vendor while practicing basketball at O Street Market. 

“I appreciate everything that Street Sense did,” he said. 

Harsh Thakkar, the manager of the NRH Punishers, said Putu’s passion for the team is admirable. 

“He’s always willing to help people, always willing to grow and tell as many people as he can about the sport,” Thakkar said. 

Wheelchair basketball teams like the NRH Punishers are essential for people with disabilities, Thakkar said. 

“Teams like the Punishers and all adaptive sports components, they’re important for individuals with disabilities to be able to live their life,” Thakkar said. “Sports and athletics are part of everyone’s life, regardless of disability or not.”

Putu’s goal is to help people around the world and “give back” to people with disabilities in Africa, he said. Kobe Bryant is one of his biggest inspirations, he said. 

“He was my favorite basketball player,” Putu said.