Between the surgeries, from birth to sophomore year, from his heart to his ears, Malosi Viena has endured the improbable path to success.
It’s not just the 3.2 grade-point average — 3.7 this year — and the real possibility of playing basketball at RIT or Gallaudet University. It’s not the part-time jobs he keeps to enjoy his own spending money. It’s not even the 17-point scoring average just two years after suffering a head injury that displaced a cochlear implant. Or being a rarity, a deaf player who stand outs in the world of the hearing. The perseverance it took to get through every physical setback was a matter of modern medicine and Viena’s unending faith.
Viena missed his entire sophomore year, spent junior season making up for lost time, and then thrived with co-captain and point guard Albert Perry under coach Lionel Villarmia to become Pearl City’s leading scorer in boys basketball.
It really began not so long after heart surgery to close a hole in his newborn heart. He was born into a family of hoopsters. Peanuts cartoon icon Linus had his blanket. Viena had his basketball.
Rykin Enos, former standout player at Kamehameha, remembers it well. As a close friend of the brothers, he was at those games watching the Viena brothers, Bulla and Drew, when their youngest sibling took full advantage of an empty court.
“The refs would stop the game and tell him to stop bouncing the ball. He would look at his parents and (they) would sign for him to stop. He would stop and run back to the bench, and wait,” Enos wrote on social media. “Next time out, he would be out there shooting hoops. When the time out was finished, his brothers would get him off the court by throwing their hands up and staring him down. His passion for the game at that young age was more than anyone in the gym.”
Unlike his brothers and sister, Malosi was born in San Diego, not by choice. It was necessity.
“We all flew up. Before he was born, they already could tell he had a hole in his heart,” Bulla Viena said. “They didn’t have the surgeons here to do that operation.”
“That was the hardest part in the beginning,” Drew Viena added. “My parents monitored him. We figured out how far we could push him.”
Mom (Leslee) and dad (Dean) brought Malosi to Cardiac Kids on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Surrounded by his older brothers and an older sister, Kodee, father and uncle (Dino) who thrived in roundball, Honowai Park in Waipahu became his second home.
The hoop action was interrupted many a time, however. From ages 7 to 10, Viena had four surgeries to construct ears that he was born without. By 13, he had a cochlear operation to provide hearing that he was also born without.
By sophomore year, he missed the entire season after suffering a head injury in an summer league game in a collision with another player. Damage to one of the two cochlear implants along with a concussion. Issues with his heart condition compounded the situation. It was a long four months of no running, no basketball during recovery. Reposting the cochlear.
“Even when he was healing, he would sneak to the park and just watch them from the fence. He couldn’t wait to get back on the court,” Leslee Viena said. “His brothers helped him recover, get stronger, get better. They made him play in men’s leagues with them. He really had to step up.”
Viena also spent every Sunday mornings working out for two hours before church with Uncle Dino. All the work helped him make up for lost time. Perry met Viena in middle school, and they became teammates last year.
“When they were juniors, Malosi was kind of shy and Albert would talk to him. Albert learned some sign language from Coach Becky (Hoopii, his interpreter),” Coach Villarmia said. “I told Albert, that’s a good deal. You’re the point guard, I yell the play and you give the (hand) signal. This year, we’re more athletic, so we added more different stuff to our offense and defense, so Malosi and Albert figured out what to call it. That was neat.”
Perry was, in some ways, a bridge to Viena’s world. The viral video of his crossover setback 3 against Radford that left a defender on the ground was a memory maker, but their friendship is timeless. The video went viral on multiple sites before ending up on ESPN, viewed by millions.
“That ankle-breaker, he came up to me after, all excited. I shook his hand. That was great,” Perry said. “He’s also a great friend, you know. He’s got a lot of jokes to tell. For being deaf, he’s still one of the funniest people I know. It just happens out of nowhere, he says some of the funniest stuff. He’s one of the best.”
The strength of family and friends — tested and triumphant.
“Our mom and dad have a lot of patience,” Bulla said. “They left it in God’s hands.”
Viena and many of the state’s best senior boys and girls basketball players will suit up on Saturday in the Hawaii Senior Classic at Moanalua High School gym. The event will tip off at 4 p.m.
Here’s more on Vienna in today’s Honolulu Star-Advertiser.
Pearl City basketball, volleyball
Favorites / Q&A
Athlete: LeBron James
> He’s such a skilled player. His ability, his domination. He’s so amazing on the court. When I was growing up, I wanted his jersey number. When he moved to Miami, then back to Cleveland and now with the Lakers, he was always my favorite player.
Team: Los Angeles Chargers
> Before they moved to LA, they were in San Diego and that’s where I was born. My brother (Drew) and dad (Dean) are diehard Chargers fans, too.
Food at home: Breakfast food
> Scrambled eggs, Portuguese sausage and white rice. And I can make it myself.
Food eating out: Kal bi (boneless) from Big City Diner and steak quesadillas from Taco Bell.
Hobby: I like Tik Tok and I like to dance.
Movie: Like Mike
> I like the storyline. Calvin Cambridge really inspired me. He though the magic was in his shoes, but all along it was in himself.
TV show: The Good Doctor
> Shaun Murphy is a character who has autism, but he works as a doctor. The first part of it is Shaun Murphy and Mr. Mendez, both of them work together to find out what’s going on with someone with a heart problem. They had to figure out what’s going on a boy and saved his life. Dr. Murphy didn’t allow his disability to stop him. He kept going and worked through it.
Video game: NBA2K 20
> I always played that one growing up. I use LeBron. He’s easy to score with.
Music artist: Ana Vee
> She’s my cousin (Ana Viena-Lota).
> I have too many favorite teachers to name them all. It’s a long list here. Every school I went to I had favorite teachers. I’m thankful for all of them.
GPA: 3.2 (cumulative)
> This year, first quarter I was 3.7. Second quarter, I’m not sure. I think 3.4.
> I like the challenge of trying to solve all the problems. It helps my mind stay sharp. I like the easier math. I haven’t yet taken the hardest levels. I did pass geometry and algebra. Geometry was hard for me last year. Remember all those formulas and shapes and things.
Place to relax: Honowai Park
> I like to play basketball and shoot there. That’s where I got to relax and chill. That’s what I do every day.
> I like Proverbs 3:5-6. Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways, acknowledge him and He will direct your path.
What does mom (Leslee) say that you can’t forget?
> She always tells me to remember to say my prayers before every game and after every game. Always thank God.
What does dad (Dean) say that you can’t forget?
> He’s so funny. My dad tells me every time I come into a game, if you play good, we’ll eat good. If you play lousy, then we’ll eat at McDonald’s. So I want to play good.
What do your coaches say that you can’t forget?
> Coach Lionel told me you need to drive (to the basket). Drive first, shoot 3s later.
How has basketball affected your life year round?
> It’s part of my lifestyle, in season and off season. It’s what I do daily. If I want to play well, I’ve got to work hard and I do that all year. I do about 200 shots before the game. That’s what I do. I do a lot of running. I do lift. I do the bench press and squats before practice.
What youth teams did you play for?
> H1 Thunder, Young Bulls. I had some surgeries growing up and I never had time to play (long term) for a team.
You had your first ear surgery at age 7. What do you remember?
> I remember going into the hospital and I was really scared. It was just weird, you know, all the kids in the hospital and the different rooms. I didn’t want to go into surgery. I didn’t know what was gong to happen, but, you know, my mom came with me and she took care of me. It was scary, though. After we got in, I was going to have the surgery, and the surgery room smelled horrible in there. It was like uhh, cats, I don’t know. Fruits? So I got into bed. It was pretty squishy and they put the mask on my face, and I felt my brain get fuzzy. I can’t remember much after that.
Your mom said it was painful.
> Yeah, it hurt a lot. I couldn’t see because they had to wrap my head with gauze and it was really thick on my forehead. I couldn’t see because it kept sliding down and covering my eyes.
Then the cochlear surgery when you were 13.
> Yeah, before eighth grade in the summer time. Right before my sophomore year, we were in summer league and I was running. I looked up and I hit my head and I had a slight concussion. The metal inside got hit and it fell out. I was confused for about a minute about what was going on. It was a little bit bloody. It wasn’t too bad, but for one year, I couldn’t play.
That was a different kind of pain, having to sit out.
> Yeah, I couldn’t play after that because of my heart. I was disappointed I couldn’t play. It was about four months. I could shoot, but I couldn’t run until the doctor approved full activity. I took that year off. I didn’t come to the games or practices at all.
One everything healed, the cochlear was back to normal.
> Before, in eighth grade and freshman year, I would keep it on, outside league and here at school (basketball). Then after I got that concussion and had the surgery, I decided I would take it off when I play. It’s easier that way. If I get hit in the head, I don’t have any concerns.
Where have you traveled for sports?
> I’ve gone to Oregon, Seattle, California to see my sister’s basketball tournament when she played for 808 Basketball. Seattle was to see my brother (Bulla) when he played for Shoreline (Community College). I’ve been to Arizona. I didn’t play my sophomore year, so I went to the Deaf Academic Bowl there. There was a tournament there. You have to study math, English, current events. You buzz in to get the points. You compete against other deaf schools from the mainland, so it was fun. Pearl City had a team, and HSDB had a team. This past summer, I went to New York. RIT has a summer program there, so that was a good experience. It was about a week.
You can see yourself being there for four years.
What is something you like to do what might surprise people?
> Dancing. Hip hop.
Your dad and uncle probably used to pop.
> I remember seeing him do the pop and lock. I didn’t know he used to do that kind of dancing.
Time machine. Would you go to the future or the past?
> I would take the past. I would go back in time when my grandpa was alive and spend more one more day with him. I was his favorite grandchild. He was always worried about me and my health since I was a baby. I would tell him, ‘Don’t worry about me and my future. I will be OK, I promise.’ He passed away in 2016. I was in eighth grade at the time.
Bucket list. Where would you want to go, things you’d like to do?
> I would like to go to an LA Chargers game, and see the Lakers and LeBron play. I want to go to Washington D.C. and see all the monuments there, take a look around. I love to travel.
What is the history and background of your name?
> My parents picked Malosi for me. It means strong in Samoan. That names means that I need to be strong with the heart condition and being deaf, and everything I’ve gone through.
So, Malosi is your middle name and Delta is your first name. What does Deltha mean?
> I don’t know what it means. I just know what Malosi means. Just ignore the Deltha. Viena is interesting. Your dad told me before that his family is Samoan and Austrian or German. Maybe some Chinese. My mom’s family is Hawaiian and Chinese. My dad is full Samoan. Whenever I would ask my dad, he would say, ‘Samoan.’
Any shout outs?
> I would like to thank my interpreter, Becky, and my family, the Viena’s and the Lau’s. And the Tafui’s. I want to thank my sister (Kodee), who’s in California. My brothers Bulla and Drew. They always gave me the courage to do what I wanted to do. And my Pearl City teammates and coach. And thank you to my uncle (Jordan Viena) who’s always filming me during games even when I’m getting banged up. The one that went viral, I appreciate he did that one, too.
Were you surprised that the video got a million views?
> Yeah, after one day it was completely viral. I was completely shocked. They don’t know I’m deaf.
You and Brandon Chung (of Kalani) might go play basketball together in college?
> We’ve been in contact and we want to play at Gallaudet or RIT. Hopefully, we can play together. That would be nice. The first time I met him was in a tournament on Maui in a championship game. He’s a smart post.
What a great story of overcoming adversity and persevering.
Nothing but well wishes and support for this young man.
What an incredible young man that doesn’t give up or let any obstacle stand in his way! You are an inspiration to many who feel that it’s their time time to give up but will probably continue because of your story.
I think this story has a limited reach here. It should be featured in the sports section of the SA.