As Chris Bosh Deals with Health Issue, There's Genuine Concern for a Genuine Guy

Ethan Skolnick@@EthanJSkolnickNBA Senior WriterFebruary 20, 2015

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MIAMI — There's a dogged determination among the traditionalists in this profession to disconnect, to set any emotional attachments aside, to draw a line between our lives and those of the athletes we're around, to draw the conclusion that we can never know them that well.

That may sound cold and callous, but it's simply easier to respect the wall, to frame the relationship as merely question and quote. That not only helps eliminate any accusations of bias, but also some of the letdown, should an athlete not actually be what his or her public persona has made us believe. 

That's typically what I have tried to do, too. 

But that just doesn't seem right in the case of Chris Bosh.

And judging by the outpouring of affection—not just from teammates and fans but also fellow reporters—since the Miami Heat forward underwent testing at a Miami-area hospital for a serious condition, it is clear that plenty of others in my field are caught in the same uncomfortable spot.

As media members, can we allow ourselves to put aside not only our objectivity, but our understanding of the barriers between ourselves and those we cover, and simply root for the absolute best for the human being?

For sure.

For this one, especially.

That's because Bosh has never come across as an ordinary athlete.

At least, not in the ways we think of athletes nowadays—those who barricade themselves from the world outside, those who see the fans as impediments rather than accouterments, those who speak in tired cliche yet still act out for attention, those who rarely step out of their specific area of expertise to test themselves and risk the embarrassment that could ensue.

MIAMI, FL - December 20:  Chris Bosh #1 of the Miami Heat participates in the annual Christmas With Chris Bosh event at Gametime in Miami, Florida on December 20, 2014. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using
Issac Baldizon/Getty Images

But not Bosh. I know I've never covered anyone like him, not in two decades. And that's not because he has treated me differently than he has treated anyone else but, rather, because he hasn't.

We speak in media circles of forging respectful relationships with athletes, merely so we can do our jobs efficiently and thus allow them to get back to theirs, with the least interruption and awkwardness possible.

Some of us may sometimes get the feeling that we're some famous athlete's favorite, the one he (or she) will trust most when the time comes to tell the world something important—where he might sign, when he might return to action, how he truly feels about a teammate or coach. Some of us—OK, many of us—tend to take some childlike pride in being so chosen, even if you won't often hear that openly admitted.

Yet, I've never had the sense that Bosh plays favorites of any kind, perhaps because that would mean being less gracious and helpful to one person than another. That would mean acting as if some of those he encounters are of less import or can't help him quite as much.

Contrary to many of his contemporaries, he never comes off as seeking something for himself, trying to leverage the interaction for something he may need later or worrying about whether another outlet might be better able to serve his needs.

That's because it's never about his needs. It's just about being professional and personable, all at once. And so everyone has virtually the same experience with them, wherever you're from, in whatever wave you arrive following a game, and regardless of what you ask, no matter how challenging or even confrontational. You will invariably encounter patient, genuine "Chris," without any airs and with hardly any filter.

And you will be amazed by this occurrence, because if you're in my line of work, you're not especially accustomed to it. Athletes are feeling their oats now that they've figured out they don't need the media middlemen to get their messages out.

That's why you hear Kevin Durant, on the heels of Marshawn Lynch and Russell Westbrook, lashing out, acting as if the entire exercise is beneath them, as well as some of the participants in it.

MIAMI, FL - November 23: Chris Bosh #1 of the Miami Heat takes a shot against the Charlotte Hornets at the American Airlines Arena in Miami, Florida on November 23, 2014. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or usi
Issac Baldizon/Getty Images

But that has never been Bosh's way, even when it may have been warranted, even when some of the criticism directed at him has been invasive, unfair and cruel. It's inaccurate to say Bosh hasn't been affected by the worst of what's come his way, but he always seems to come back with a smile.

After ESPN carnival barker Skip Bayless kept referring to him as "Bosh Spice," Bosh actually visited the First Take set for a friendly debate.

He's had to consistently fight the narrative that he's soft, though that's a label he should have shed for good when he returned from an abdominal injury to help the Heat win the 2012 championship, and one that was disproved again when he has played at less than 100 percent recently—much less, in fact, as we're now only starting to learn.

Most athletes would sink into an impenetrable shell under that assault, but that's not who he is, so it's not what he does.

He was one of the most active athletes on Twitter in the medium's early stages, posting videos and competing with teammates for followers. After forming the Big Three in Miami, he became so besieged ("It's so negative…it just kind of takes the joy out of it") with insults that he stopped for a while, but not forever.

He's continually had his comments taken out of context, such as when I spoke to him in October about what Kevin Love would encounter in stepping back from a first to second or third role in Cleveland. Bosh's introspective, perfectly reasonable sentiments, published in my story, were twisted by second-hand aggregators into slaps at former teammate LeBron James, which was nowhere close to Bosh's intention.

When I sheepishly apologized to Bosh for the trouble, he brushed it off, attributing it to the tenor of the times. He has never seemed to let anything bother him for too long, and he has never seemed to care all that much if people don't consider all of his endeavors sufficiently cool.

Once mocked by a coach for attending an engineering competition, Bosh recently wrote an essay for Wired magazine touting the benefits of learning to code, all part of his mission "to let kids know that it's OK to be smart." And it's also OK to occasionally have some video-bombing fun or to play a character named Tall Justice.

Basically, it's OK to be real.

It's OK to be you.

February 15, 2015; New York, NY, USA; Eastern Conference center Chris Bosh of the Miami Heat (1) comes on to the floor before the 2015 NBA All-Star Game at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports
USA TODAY Sports

That's what Bosh was being last weekend in New York for the All-Star festivities. From the first media session, he was accommodating as always. He politely entertained even the inquiries designed to trip him up (like when he was asked about LeBron James' "happiness" after leaving Miami), while confidently addressing league matters and openly assessing his own season and that of his struggling team.

This was normal for those of us who have been around him regularly, but nirvana for those who haven't. One of my colleagues from Cleveland couldn't stop raving about how "great Chris is," while he kept going back to Bosh's podium for more intelligent insight. And the well never ran dry.

"I'm addicted," my friend told me.

"Knew you would be," I said, laughing.

Now, some of the things Bosh said last weekend are ringing in my ears, such as when he spoke of "always thinking about the positive" or that "hopefully these hardships we've had in the first half of the season will define what we do in the second half," or when he spoke of how the All-Star break will help because "if your mind is right, your body will follow."

"Sometimes, you just have to reset," Bosh said last Friday. "If things are going well, if things aren't going well, you have to let your body rest. You have to take advantage of the time. When you're stuck in the brain, sometimes you have to step away from the game, and that's when you get the most ideas.

MIAMI, FL - MAY 30: Former Miami Heat Alonzo Mourning shares a moment with Chris Bosh #1 of the Miami Heat after the win against the Indiana Pacers in Game Six of the Eastern Conference Finals during the 2014 NBA Playoffs on May 30, 2014 in Miami, Fl. NOT
Jesse D. Garrabrant/Getty Images

I also asked him then if he would feel good about making the playoffs, in light of all the Heat had been through.

"Given everything that's happened, we still have high expectations for ourselves," Bosh said. "We're going to be in a race. That's something to live for. That's something to play for. To be able to kind of control our own destiny, despite all that other stuff that's happened, I think that's a good thing.

"Just moving forward, we have to make sure we keep that in mind, that we are in a good position. We can't get down on ourselves. A lot of people don't make the playoffs, so just having a chance to make it is good."

And then, after winning the Shooting Stars competition again on Saturday (and promising to put the trophy "in the man cave on my desk") and playing well in limited minutes in the All-Star Game on Sunday, I finally stopped him to ask about what his friend, current Heat assistant Juwan Howard, said on the radio: that Bosh had been playing injured for a while.

"I'm hurt, but I'm not injured," Bosh said, smiling. "It's nothing I can't play through."

Asked where it was, he reached behind him and slapped his middle back on the left side. The next day, he was photographed with his wife Adrienne, as well as Dwyane Wade, Gabrielle Union and others, on a brief Haiti getaway.

Then he was back at practice to resume the second half and start that playoff charge. But with his symptoms—shortness of breath, cramping—not subsiding, he ended up in a Miami hospital on Thursday night. There he remains, as of this writing, still awaiting full results.

That has made Friday a wrenching day not just for him or his immediate familythough that contingent most of all. Also, for the Heat of course, and not just because they could use Bosh's unique skill set on the court down the stretch of this season, even after the unexpected acquisition of Goran Dragic.

We've gone over what makes Bosh uniquehis vulnerability, his versatility, his accessibility. What makes the Heat unique in the NBA is their continuity. So many of the current employees, even at the top levels, were in the organization back in 2000, when a routine training camp physical revealed Alonzo Mourning's kidney disease.

That was right after Pat Riley had rebuilt the team around the franchise center, adding Eddie Jones, Brian Grant and Anthony Mason in the offseason. That team never became what Riley dreamed, and now, 15 years later, the terrible irony is that both Grant (early onset Parkinson's disease) and Mason (heart surgery) are battling health issues, too.

Feb 14, 2015; New York, NY, USA; Team Bosh forward Chris Bosh of the Miami Heat (1, top) and Team Bosh legend Dominique Wilkins (bottom) celebrate after winning during the 2015 NBA All Star Shooting Stars competition at Barclays Center. Mandatory Credit:
USA TODAY Sports

"Not again," one Heat longtime employee texted me Friday about the Bosh news.

"This is the worst," another quickly followed.

The hope now is that this isn't as serious as what Mourning had to overcome, even though the Hall of Famer did return that season after missing 69 games, after some stops and starts, and ended up winning a championship with the Heat as a supporting player six years later.

Bosh has already won two championships with his play. But he's won much more than that. He's won over countless people inside and outside the Heat organization, from the lowest levels to the highest, people who feel as if they've mattered to him in some way, for however many moments they shared.

He's done it with his personality and the way he chooses to treat everyone. So while no fan or reporter's concerns can compare to those of the family and friends closest to him, it's a troubling day for the rest of us, too.

Get better, Chris Bosh.


Ethan Skolnick covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @EthanJSkolnick.

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