'I Feel That I Was Chosen to Do It': Chris Bosh Gets Serious About NBA Comeback

Ken Berger@@KBergNBAFeatured Columnist IFebruary 17, 2018

LOS ANGELES, CA - JANUARY 04: Chris Bosh attends a basketball game between the Los Angeles Clippers and the Oklahoma City Thunder at Staples Center on January 4, 2018 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Allen Berezovsky/Getty Images)
Allen Berezovsky/Getty Images

LOS ANGELES — There was a quiet moment some two hours before tipoff of the 2016 All-Star Game in Toronto that resonated with me as much as some of the best performances I've seen in this event over the years.

The elevator opened on the court level of the Air Canada Centre, and out strolled Chris Bosh. What should have been a bittersweet return to the city where he played his first seven NBA seasons had turned into a nightmare.

A day earlier, Bosh had withdrawn from the three-point contest on All-Star Saturday and the main event itself on Sunday, citing a strained right calf. By the end of the week, the true diagnosis was in, and it was far more grim: Bosh, not yet 32, had been diagnosed with his second episode of blood clotsa potentially deadly condition that eventually appeared to end his career.

Now nearly 34, Bosh was back at All-Star Weekend on Fridaynot as a player, but as a panelist for a discussion on the rise of esports at the All-Star Technology Summit. Identified in the program as "president and CEO, Bosh Enterprises," Bosh nonetheless still views himself as a basketball player.

His determination to return to the court has collided with the NBA's efforts to establish protocols for determining "fitness to play" when a player has a potentially life-threatening injury or illness. It's a dilemma of the highest order for all involved, and the stakeslife or deathcouldn't be higher.

"Physically I'm great," Bosh told Bleacher Report. "We do know that medically, there are some conversations to be had. That's a hell of a mountain to climb. I do understand that, and I want everybody to know that. I'm not being naive about it."

A day earlier, on ESPN's First Take, Bosh had stated emphatically that he was hoping to return to the NBA as soon as this season. He'd made similar comments in the past, including to B/R's Howard Beck, but given the proximity to the league's marquee midseason event, these caused a new ripple in the basketball news cycle.

"No, I'm not done yet," Bosh said on ESPN.

Speaking with B/R after his Tech Summit appearance, in his most extensive interview to date on his medical struggle, Bosh said, "I would've sent in my retirement papers if that was the case."

The risks, though, are potentially catastrophic.

Bosh was first diagnosed with blood clots in his lungs shortly after All-Star Weekend in 2015. He missed the rest of the season, returned for the 2015-16 season and was selected to the 2016 All-Star Game as a reserve.

After pulling out of the three-point contest and the All-Star Game in 2016, Chris Bosh saw his playing career come to an end when he was diagnosed with blood clots for a second time.
After pulling out of the three-point contest and the All-Star Game in 2016, Chris Bosh saw his playing career come to an end when he was diagnosed with blood clots for a second time.Elsa/Getty Images

The second blood-clotting issue changed the circumstances dramatically. As B/R's Beck reported in December 2016, when a person is diagnosed with blood clots a second time, it is standard medical practice to prescribe blood thinners for the rest of the person's life.

And playing a contact sport while taking blood thinners can cause potentially fatal internal bleeding.

For these reasons, the Miami Heatwith whom Bosh won two championships and made four straight trips to the NBA Finals from 2011-14did not medically clear him to play in September 2016. What ensued was a months-long negotiation to bring medical closure to a complex and emotional situation surrounding one of the NBA's most accomplished and likable playersand to permanently remove Bosh's salary obligations from the Heat's books.

The NBA and National Basketball Players Association declined to comment, citing medical privacy laws. And details of the compromise reached to determine Bosh's future have never been reported. What's clear is that a league doctor ruled in June 2017 that Bosh had a career-ending medical condition. The Heat waived him a few weeks later, removing his $52 million in remaining salary from their cap.

The matter was complicated by the fact that Bosh's condition was discovered before new medical screening panels were established in the collective bargaining agreement that took effect in July 2017. These new policies, instituted largely in response to Bosh's situation, lay out terms by which a player may or may not return to play after such a diagnosis. The new policies contain language pertaining specifically to players with cardiac and blood disorders.

Two people familiar with the legal maneuverings that went into the medical determination on Bosh told B/R that the new protocols, which have yet to be formally tested, do not apply to him since his situation predated them.

"No need for it," one of the people said. "Everything's settled."

Chris Bosh was selected to play in 11 consecutive All-Star Games in his 13-year career with the Raptors and Heat.
Chris Bosh was selected to play in 11 consecutive All-Star Games in his 13-year career with the Raptors and Heat.Danny Moloshok/Associated Press

Bosh, however, seems to disagree. Which makes you wonder why an otherwise healthy 33-year-old husband and father would even consider risking his life to play basketball—in the unlikely event that a single team would be willing to take such a risk.

"Look, trust me, I've got people coming up to me saying, 'What are you doing? We just want you healthy!'" Bosh told B/R. "I know that, and I do understand that, trust me. That is very important to me, too. So I just have to remind people of that.

"I don't do anything without measuring 10 times and cutting once," he said. "So that's always been my plan. We want to be able to put that in the team's court and for the team to be an advocate for me and my family, to help us find a way."

Several team executives contacted by B/R on Friday said they would need to review all the medical and legal facts before forming an opinion on whether offering Bosh a contract would be a viable option.

"That's for doctors and lawyers," one Eastern Conference general manager said, "not basketball guys."

Bosh indicated he's been in the gym training and would be able to help a contending team as soon as this season. For a free agent to be playoff-eligible, he must be on the roster and under contract by March 1—less than two weeks away. Given the delicate medical and legal issues involved, it's almost impossible to imagine that timeline being met.

Furthermore, even if a team were willing to take the risk and medically clear Bosh, several team execs speculated that getting a contract through the league office would be next to impossible.

"My guess is, the league would sit on it for a long time," an Eastern Conference exec told B/R.

The league's new protocols state that once a player has been deemed to have a career-ending medical condition or injury, he may be referred to the medical panel again, but only with proof in writing from a physician that there are "materially changed circumstances," such as treatment advances or a change in the player's condition. It is not known what provisions were agreed to in Bosh's situation, if any, that would allow him to be re-evaluated.

"If it's about working out and playing basketball, I'm one of the best in the world to do it—at least two years ago," Bosh said. "But I'm still in a space where I can play. The question is, when it comes to contact, when it comes to these other things and when it comes to possibly not having blood thinners in my system during a game. That is the question."

But the real question is much deeper: Why?

"I miss it, man," Bosh said. "It's just a phenomenal sport. Even a part of me feels bad because my kids are starting to understand, and they're like, 'We want to go to the games!' It's my lifeblood. It's what I've done throughout my whole life.

"I feel that I was chosen to do it," he said. "It's taken me all over the world and given me opportunities to take care of my family and give me experiences that I would not have had. I think about those things and what I owe to the game."

In the end, those elevator doors opened at the Air Canada Centre at All-Star Weekend 2016 and let Bosh out into a world of limbo and uncertainty, and he desperately doesn't want them to close.

       

Ken Berger covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @KBergNBA. 

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