Last month, the Miami Heat officially announced that star forward Chris Bosh was out for the remainder of the playoffs. The announcement followed tension between Bosh and the team over whether or not to allow him on the court. Bosh has been out since the all-star break in mid February, with his second blood clot scare in as many seasons. According to the team’s statement, “The Heat, Chris, the doctors and medical team have been working together throughout this process and will continue to do so to return Chris to playing basketball as soon as possible.”
Let me start by saying that I have always liked Chris Bosh — even as I actively despised the Miami Heat and made fun of his strange on-court facial expressions and antics. For me he was always the most likable of the big three. That being said, I believe he should retire. As of yesterday, when the ESPN’s Dan Le Batard announced that Bosh was likely to return next season, it doesn’t look like that is going to happen.
Bosh’s troubles began last season, when he felt pains around his rib cage. He first believed it to be a muscle tear, and later a back problem. In some games he struggled to breathe, but his team needed him so he played on. While on vacation during the NBA’s All-Star weekend, Bosh’s ailment got so bad he was checked into a Miami hospital, and was diagnosed with blood clots in one of his lungs. At this point not only his career was in jeopardy, but his life as well. Bosh told Sports Illustrated that “Everyone thinks I just had the blood clots, but the clots produced a severe adverse reaction, where all this fluid built up in my lungs, and it had to come out. That was the really miserable part.”
Despite missing the remainder of the 2014-15 season, he came back this year to lead his team in scoring and get selected to his eleventh All-Star game. But Bosh was pulled from the game at the last minute, and soon it became clear that the blood clots had returned. Still, he was not officially ruled out for the season, and his comeback was rumored for months. Bosh released a statement, independent of the team, that said he was positive he would be able to return before the years end. With the Miami Heat fighting in the playoffs without their best player, many speculated that his return was nearing.
Finally, earlier in the playoffs, reports began to surface that Bosh wanted to play and the team was refusing to let him. This quickly snowballed, with Bosh and his wife starting the twitter campaign #BringBoshBack. At one point the NBA Players Association even got involved. Dan Le Betard reported that Bosh had found a doctor who would allow him to play, even though countless others had said he shouldn’t. Blood clots can be especially dangerous for athletes, because the blood thinners that are used for them cause heavy bleeding after physical contact.
Then, right as the story reached its peak, the teams announcement came, ruling Bosh out for the season.
While this story unfolded, I couldn’t help but think of another strange NBA illness, that of former Celtic great Reggie Lewis. Lewis went from a lightly recruited Baltimore high school player, to the greatest player in Northeastern basketball history, and finally the Celtics successor to Larry Bird. Through five seasons he seemed destined for greatness.
In Reggie Lewis’s final NBA game, during the 1993 playoffs, he scored 17 points in just 13 minutes. That was before he collapsed while running up the court untouched. He attempted to return to action later but was forced to sit back down.
He was checked into the hospital, where a “dream team” of twelve cardiologists made a shocking diagnosis. Lewis had cardiomyopathy, a version of an enlarged heart, that can lead to an erratic heartbeat. In some cases it can cause death when mixed with strenuous exercise. They made it clear that he could never play basketball again. Lewis, broken by the results, shopped around for a new diagnosis. Eventually Dr. Gilbert Mudge of Brigham and Women’s Hospital, told him that he could play without limitations.
Within months, Reggie Lewis collapsed while shooting baskets at a gym in Waltham, Massachusetts, and was pronounced dead at age 27.
Now clearly these two cases have many differences — the two athletes were suffering from completely different illnesses. Still it isn’t hard to draw the parallels between two players facing career and possibly life threatening medical issues, who seek out many diagnoses until they get one that they like. There may be doctors out there who believe Bosh can play at a high level and be fine, but enough don’t for it to be a serious risk. I don’t blame Bosh in any way for wanting to push his way back and get on the court. He is one of the premier players of his generation, and is beginning to slip out of his prime.
I find it refreshing that the Miami Heat have chosen not to rush Bosh back, despite the fact that they clearly need him. We are used to hearing stories like Derrick Rose being hurried back from knee surgery, and NFL teams ignoring concussions, so a team looking out for its players health first is a good change. It has been back to back years where Chris Bosh has been forced out for long periods of time due to blood clots, and I don’t want him to risk something worse. Just last year, former Portland Trail Blazer Jerome Kersey passed away from a blood clot in his lung that spread from his calf, the same place Bosh’s clots originated. As much as it must hurt him, watching his team from the bench this postseason was the right move for Chris Bosh and he should seriously consider ending his career early.