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Three months after a colorectal cancer diagnosis, the New Zealand Tall Black and veteran NBL centre made an emotional and thrilling return to the 2021 National Basketball League.
Suiting up for the 100-87 victory against the Canterbury Rams on Thursday evening, he helped the team with three points and three rebounds in his 5.35min on court.
The crowd at ILT Stadium Southland signalled their feelings, giving him a standing ovation both times he came on court.
At the end of the game Pledger was embraced by fans in the Shark Tank.
"I’ve got my dad here, my wife here," Pledger said.
"It was a great night ... To be able to sneak one in the last 30 seconds or so — yeah, it was definitely a nice feeling after the rough time I had recently.
"Being able to get there and help a little bit — it was great."
Pledger (34) has undergone radiation treatment, which ended six weeks ago.
At the time, it was hard to believe he would be ready to return to the court this season, but his passion, resilience and effort allowed him to do so.
While he was humbled, he did not want to steal the spotlight from his team-mates, he said.
"I really didn’t want it [the game] to be about me — I wanted to be about the whole team."
He said the night was also important to inspire the team for the playoffs next week, as well as raising awareness for Bowel Cancer New Zealand, of which he is now an ambassador.
"This became pretty important to me in the recent times."
He was pleased with what he had achieved in such a short time and was very thankful to the Sharks team and staff for supporting him throughout the journey, Pledger said.
Southland Sharks strength and conditioning coach Tyson Huia was emotional and teary after the game.
Pledger’s cancer diagnosis caught everyone by surprise, Huia said.
But Pledger’s amazing effort had paid off.
"It has been an emotional roller-coaster for him ... what Pledger has being doing is impressive — working hard and getting back on track," Huia said.
"It is a miracle he was able to jump on court tonight. I’m feeling very proud."