With the passing of former NBA center Kevin Duckworth earlier this week, fans of the NBA lost one of the embodiments of what the league wants its players to be like.
Duckworth was a hard, worker whose dominance and perseverance on the court was matched only by his kindness and charity off the court. Truly, Duck was somebody who you can find yourself cheering for even if you're not a fan of his team.
Losing any player who you found yourself cheering for can be difficult. This is especially true considering the circumstances under which we lost Duck.
Duckworth's case is one that has become more and more common as years pass—former professional athletes unable to take care of their bodies following retirement, and often paying the ultimate price.
Prior to his death, it was obvious that Duckworth was not taking very good care of his himself. In his playing days, Duckworth was listed 7'0 and 275 pounds. A good portion of that 275 pounds was muscle, as while Duck struggled with keeping his weight down during some portions of his career, he still possessed high-caliber strength and good quickness for somebody of his size, allowing him to become a two-time All-Star.
However, by the twilight of his career, it became apparent that Kevin was truly having problems keeping his weight down, slowing down both literally and figuratively. Pictures of him in retirement show a man of at least 350 pounds, usually sporting with a big grin, clearly leading a unhealthy lifestyle. The culmination of all these factors was congestive heart failure of an already enlarged heart, at the age of only 44.
Cases such as Duckworth's are not rare. Consider the death of former Sonics and Celtics guard Dennis Johnson last year. Johnson never had troubles with weight in his playing career, being a 6'4", 180-pound guard. However, those who knew him at the time of his death, when he was coaching the NBDL's Austin Toros, say that his weight had ballooned close to 300 pounds at that time.
He collapsed of a heart attack following a Toros practice one day and was pronounced dead soon after. Once again, an unhealthy lifestyle led following a professional career led to an early death as Johnson was only 52 years old.
It can be easy to understand how athletes let themselves go following their playing career. From grade school to seasoned veterans, they train, diet, exercise, and work tirelessly to reach their goals. Once they call their career quits, they are free to be regular people. And by regular people, I mean not having to work out daily and not sticking to a strict diet and exercise regimen.
This is understandable. Players bust their humps for decades, and once their goals are fulfilled, it's reasonable that they would want to take it easy. However, doing this to an excessive degree can prove to be deadly—as Duckworth and Johnson have shown.
In retirement, former players don't have to display the same strict commitment they have during their playing days, but staying active and continuing to eat healthy can prevent such deaths.
We as fans put players up on pedestals and look to them as super-humans—but in retirement, they prove to have the same weaknesses as we do, and the obligations they adhere to during their playing days become non-existent. Duckworth's passing is just one of many that could be prevented so long as former players can find a balance between active and retired life.