The career of Chris Bosh, a true NBA original and champion, hangs in the balance
It was always so easy to be dismissive of Chris Bosh.
He was the proverbial big fish in a little pond in Toronto, scoring points and racking up all-star appearances yet never accomplishing anything with the Raptors in the play-offs. Then he arrived in Miami to be the little fish in LeBron James and Dwyane Wade’s big pond, the implication that he was on their level almost adorably amusing.
He did goofy things, he looked kind of awkward. Seriously, Google him, scour the memes and tweets and articles and understand that Bosh was, for a very long time, considered the NBA’s misfit superstar. Lampooned, belittled, Bosh was good enough to always remain part of the conversation – and perceived as weak enough that it was mostly as the butt of that conversation’s jokes.
And then, suddenly, it all changed. Bosh morphed into the perfect role player for those Heat teams, tough-minded and loyal, versatile and underrated. He became a really good defender, learned to shoot threes. Bosh did all the little things we associate with passion and winning, and his perception changed accordingly. He earned two rings for his efforts, too.
The real truth, though, is Bosh was always a passionate player, always exceptionally talented and exceptionally nuanced. But there has always been an irrational derision we heap on the great players for average teams, and an almost equally irrational reverence we reserve for the very good players on great teams. Chris Bosh, across 13 years, has been the subject of both of these particular NBA neuroses.
He proved, ultimately, that he wasn’t any fish in any pond – he was Chris Bosh, a true basketball original and a champion.
Bosh is still fighting, though it’s not dismissiveness anymore. Blood clots have robbed the 32-year-old of large chunks of his last two seasons, and it’s appearing increasingly likely that they will rob him of the remainder of his career.
The Heat announced on Friday that they regret they remain “unable to clear Chris to return to basketball activities”. It casts serious doubt on his hoops future, because if the Miami team doctors won’t clear him now, after he’s been working tirelessly on a specialised regimen to deal with the clots (the subject of a recently-released documentary), when might they?
And the natural, harrowing follow-up is: What if they don’t, ever? Would anyone else?
Bosh has been defiant toward his team, having been told his career is likely over by the Heat physicians. In the documentary he said pointedly, “Seeing the team doctors, they told me that my season is over, my career is probably over and this just happens, this is just how it is.
“If a doctor tells me, ‘hey that’s it and this is how that is,’ and I don’t buy that. I have the right to disagree with you.
“It wasn’t a matter of if I play again; it was when.”
It’s an admirable attitude. But it also feels a bit more like the raging defiance of a man in denial than it does the clear-eyed prognosis of a detached third party.
It will be heartbreaking if this is it for Bosh. He’s young enough that he very easily could be a big part of the next great Heat team, with young talent like Justise Winslow, Hassan Whiteside and Josh Richardson providing a solid foundation.
There is a lot yet Bosh could accomplish. Even as it stands, he’s 70th all-time in BasketballReference win shares (with 106.00) and well on course, if he plays on, to crack the top-50 or maybe even 40. He is one of just 30 players to make 11 or more all-star teams, alongside the likes of Julius Erving and Charles Barkley.
If Chris Bosh were to retire today, he would make a fine Hall of Famer. There might be some debate in there, but it would be exceedingly difficult to make a case against him.
Yahoo’s The Vertical reported on Friday that Miami “increasingly believe that his career with the franchise is over”. Maybe there is indeed something underhanded going on with the Heat, who owe Bosh $75.8 million (Dh278.4m) over the remaining three years on his contract. It would be an egregiously cynical thing for the club to do, but egregiously cynical things are not uncommon in this world.
This will probably get messier before it gets clearer. Bosh has indicated he will go down swinging against the team on the matter.
“I felt right away that I was written off,” he says in his documentary of hearing that his career was in jeopardy from team doctors.
Bosh has been written off a lot, in a multitude of ways, in his long and decorated career. Where it was once common to dismiss him, it is impossible now.
So hopefully he’s right. Hopefully he does have more basketball to play.
But if the Heat doctors are right, hopefully he can make peace with it and walk away, too. For the sake of his health.
He certainly has nothing left to prove to anyone.
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Updated: September 24, 2016 04:00 AM