Franklin native in spotlight during NCAA tourney TV ads

Paul Nelson and Mick Nelson played a round of golf last summer. While Paul has had to give up some sports, including football and baseball, due to the loss of his leg, he continues to enjoy golfing. (Contributed photo)

By MARISSA DECHANT – Staff writer

March Madness fans tuning in to this month’s NCAA basketball tournament are likely to spot a familiar face among the big-name commercials.

Franklin native Paul Nelson is starring in several INFINITI USA advertisements as a member of the 2018 Hardwood Heroes, a basketball team comprised of cancer survivors, in an effort to raise funds for various charities.

“Everybody’s talking about the commercials. I couldn’t be more proud of what he does,” said Paul’s father, Mick Nelson, of Franklin.

Paul Nelson stands with INFINITI coach and former Wisconsin University basketball coach Bo Ryan during a practice with the Hardwood Heroes team. The team will play during the Final Four on March 30. (Contributed photo)

Paul Nelson stands with INFINITI coach and former Wisconsin University basketball coach Bo Ryan during a practice with the Hardwood Heroes team. The team will play during the Final Four on March 30. (Contributed photo)

Paul, 31, grew up in Franklin where he attended Seventh Street Elementary School and played Little League baseball before moving to San Antonio with his mother, Karen Weible Simons, an Oil City native.  He graduated from Judson High School in San Antonio and went on to get his degree at the Texas Culinary Academy in Austin.

It was in May 2006 that Paul was diagnosed with osteosarcoma.  What Paul had thought was a simple knee injury from playing basketball turned out to be a full-blown tumor in his tibia below his left knee.

“There’s never been any child diagnosed (with osteosarcoma) before the age of 10 or after the age of 20.  Paul was diagnosed 11 days before his 20th birthday,” Mick said. “He went through hell.”

Paul underwent long-term chemotherapy treatments and had his leg amputated at age 22 to keep the cancer from metastasizing, Mick said.  He now lives cancer free.

“He’s cancer free. That’s why it’s a good story,” Mick said.

Paul continued to play basketball, but in a much different way, joining a wheelchair league in Austin several years ago.

It was during his time working as an executive chef in Austin that Paul was approached by the owner of Ottobock, a German-based prosthesis company. The man wanted to gift Paul one of the business’ $94,000 prosthetic legs.

Paul eventually ended up working as a spokesman for Ottobock, traveling the country to speak at seminars.

In fact, the job landed Paul a spot on the Hardwood Heroes team and his own commercial spot during March Madness.

Mick said Paul had been delivering a seminar in Los Angeles and was later contacted by someone who had been at the speaking engagement about starring in several commercials.

“It all happened within a few days, it was all quick,” Mick said.

Filming took place several weeks ago at locations including Texas State University and a rented house.  The commercials started to air March 10 and will continue through the championship game April 2.

The third annual Hardwood Heroes game will take place at the Alamodome in San Antonio, site of the Final Four, on March 30.  Paul and six other team members will face off against a group of Hardwood Heroes alumni.

Paul’s team is coached by former Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan, who led the Badgers to the NCAA championship game in 2015 where they lost to Duke.  Ryan is a member of the college basketball hall of fame.

Mick said his son has a goal of being on the wheelchair basketball team for the next Paralympic Games hosted in Tokyo in 2020.

Paul is also in the process of opening his own restaurant in Austin with a friend.

“Like I’ve told him, as bad as all this was with his leg, things happen for a reason. He handled it better than I could have ever imagined,” Mick said.

Mick and his wife, Lori Nelson, reside in Franklin.  Paul’s mother and stepfather, Steve Simons, live in Universal City, Texas, and he has two sisters, Erica Nelson of San Antonio and Emily Nelson of Franklin.

Here is a rundown of the air dates and times for the remaining commercials during the NCAA basketball tournament that feature Paul Nelson and the Hardwood Heroes.

Today – 6 p.m. during the tipoff pregame show on TNT

Thursday and Friday – 7:15 p.m. during tipoff pregame show on TBS

Saturday, March 24 – 6 p.m. during tipoff pregame show on TBS

Sunday, March 25 – 1 p.m. during Road to the Final Four show on CBS

Saturday, March 31 – 3 p.m. during the At The Final Four show on TBS, 4 to 5 p.m. on the Final Four pregame show on TBS/TNT, 5 to 6 p.m. during the Final Four pregame show on TBS and TNT, and 8:15 to 8:45 p.m. on the Final Four bridge show between the two games on TBS/TNT.

Monday, April 2 – 8 p.m. during the national championship pregame show on TBS/TNT.