He couldn't bear to watch. For nearly two years, when Chris Bosh glanced at a snippet of his old life -- an NBA highlight of a winning 3, a gala with his ex-teammates gliding down the red carpet, resplendent in their invincibility -- he'd quickly turn away, wincing from the torment of an old wound ripped open again.
"Too difficult,'' he says. "Too painful.''
Bosh was in the midst of constructing a Hall of Fame career when, in February 2015, team doctors discovered a blood clot in his lung. It ended his season -- and, had it gone undetected much longer, could well have ended his life.
He returned the following October to resume his career, but after a loss against the San Antonio Spurs on Feb. 9, 2016, he was sidelined again. Subsequent tests revealed another blood clot, this time in his calf. The Miami Heat shut down their five-time All-Star, and after exhaustive testing and treatment, announced in September 2016 that Bosh had failed his physical. Miami's front office, concerned for their player's future as a father and a husband, not a basketball forward, told him they could no longer risk putting him on the court.
Just like that, it was over. No more championship trophies to hoist, no more All-Star teams to make, no more gold medals or endorsements or private jet excursions with the guys. Bosh retreated home to his wife, Adrienne, and their four small children, plunked himself on his leather sofa and asked aloud, "What the hell just happened?"
"It's pretty much like cruising along, going 150 miles an hour in your Porsche -- and then you fall into a hole,'' Bosh says.
"I watch the whole small ball thing and say, 'Damn, I worked my whole career to play in an environment like this. These are my skills. These are my moves.' But I can't use them."Chris Bosh
He's still figuring out how to climb his way out. It has been almost a year since the NBA and the National Basketball Players Association ruled that Bosh's clotting issues were career-ending, and it has been two years since he played professional basketball. Yet he continues to discuss the possibility of a return next season, provided he can find a willing partner to employ him. Bosh says "a few guys" have reached out to him about playing, but would not name them. Asked how he plans to prove to skeptical franchises that his health would not be at risk if he donned their uniform, Bosh answered, "That's on them.''
Bosh's medical records with the Heat are sealed; even though other NBA teams have not had access to them, many have already reached their conclusion.
ESPN contacted four general managers to gauge their interest in Bosh. All four said if Bosh was given a clean bill of health, there would be a clamor to sign him. But as one GM explains, "If he was healthy, he'd be playing for the Miami Heat right now. The fact they determined it was not an option makes me say we're not going there.''
"The risk is too great,'' says another GM. "We're talking about a life-threatening condition. Who wants to mess with that?"
The answer, most likely, is no one.
Chris Bosh is a thoughtful, intelligent man, and he knows the odds are stacked against him. He also realizes that outside observers can't fathom why he won't let go of the dream, even if it's at his own peril.
"They don't understand,'' Bosh says. "I watch the whole small ball thing and say, 'Damn, I worked my whole career to play in an environment like this. These are my skills. These are my moves.'
"But I can't use them. And that's why I couldn't even watch or talk about it for a while.''
Many NBA players are ill-equipped for life after basketball. Bosh, who was raised in a tech-savvy home (his mother was a longtime employee of Texas Instruments), appeared as though he would be the exception. He joined the National Society of Black Engineers and threw his weight behind Code.org, a non-profit that advocates for computer coding in schools. In 2007, Bosh launched his own company, Max Deal Technologies, and rescued 800 domain names of his fellow NBA players from a cyber squatter. He had an affinity for numbers, but his love for the game superseded it and sucked up all of his attention.
Losing the game is one thing. Losing the environment that accompanies it has been even harder. The players he spent every waking moment with for nearly 10 months a year have, one by one, vanished from his life.
"It tails off,'' Bosh admits. "Guys tried [to stay in touch]. But it doesn't last. They get in the middle of the season and you aren't part of it. You're sitting here feeling like nobody cares about you.
"I went from a full schedule, 41 road games, everyone coming to see you, everybody loving you, people wanting stuff from you -- actually, that's still going on -- to this schedule I have now.
"I spend my days in an office in my house. There are things to be done that I don't have the skill set for. I'm able to learn on the fly, thank God, so I can function. But it's difficult.
"People used to ask me, 'What else do you want to do?' For me, the answer was, 'Nothing.' I loved basketball. It's all I wanted.''
The NBPA has programs in place to assist in preparing for life after basketball. Each year, the union reminds its brethren that their career path is finite and could end at any time due to age, injury or other mitigating factors. Bosh remembers those sessions, but he says he barely paid attention to them. He was a 20-points-a-game scorer in the prime of his career.
"They tell you, 'Prepare for the future,' but that was impossible,'' Bosh explains. "I'm thinking, 'Hey, I'm trying to win NBA championships here. I'm all-in on that. I can't be thinking about the future right now.'''
He confesses the league's declaration that his condition was "career ending" sent him spiraling into a deep funk. The disappointment and the isolation, he says, was crushing.
"You go from being with the guys all the time, in the locker room, in practice, having a militarized brain in terms of this schedule, and then all of a sudden you are on your own,'' he says. "You lose a sense of purpose, you lose a sense of yourself. And you lose confidence. You find yourself saying, 'I was the best at this and now I'm not the best.' You have to deal with not being very good. You have to deal with people no longer catering to you.
"You start feeling forgotten. You don't get as many phone calls. You don't stay at the forefront of people's minds. It's natural, it's life, you have to understand what's happening, but I definitely see why the divorce rate is so high, and why players go broke.
"Guys spend all their money trying to capture that feeling again. You can't eat at Prime 112 [Restaurant] every night anymore. There's this never-ending search for that feeling that you once had, and it can cost you.''
Bosh says rather than seek the help of a therapist to try to cope with his depression, he turned to his wife, who has helped center him on the future, instead of looking back longingly at the past.
"My wife and I talk about my struggles,'' Bosh says. "You have to have those conversations. A lot of guys in this league don't talk to their wives. They go on the road, do what they want to do, they figure, 'This is basketball, she won't understand.' It's easy to keep that divide when you are playing. But when you are in the house 24/7, it's a whole different world. It's a sensitive topic, but it's important. My wife and I are one person. I'm very lucky to be able to say that.
"She has helped me realize I have to move on, create a new life. I'm a husband, I'm a father, and I've got to dive into that now.''
In the meantime, Bosh says he's navigating bills, doctor's appointments and his financial portfolio. The next big thing has yet to materialize in his mind.
"I have millions of dollars and I don't know finance,'' Bosh says. "I've had some bad things happen in my career. I've got to educate myself. I sit down with my finance guy once a month and go over everything, line by line."
"I'm going to give [playing] one more shot. That's all it is -- a shot."Chris Bosh
Now when he wakes up in the morning, Bosh says he turns on Bloomberg News instead of SportsCenter. He looks back with a large measure of regret for being so inattentive to his personal holdings while he was playing.
"I was 22 years old when I started,'' he says. "I didn't know anything. People put stuff in front of me and I signed it, and then it came back and crucified me 10 years later. Now I spend hours looking through everything with a fine-tooth comb. It's frustrating to spend so much time on it, because you feel unfulfilled, like you haven't accomplished anything.''
Bosh, who turns 34 on March 24, says he trains regularly and still has plenty to offer an NBA team. His condition, he believes, should not hold him back.
"I'm going to give [playing] one more shot,'' he says. "That's all it is -- a shot.
"I'm at a space in my life where I see gifts I've been given, and if it ends, it's been a helluva ride. I did more than I'd ever think I'd do. The next [goal] was longevity, 25,000 points and 15,000 rebounds, but that's not going to happen," added Bosh, who now has 17,189 points and 7,592 rebounds. "I've accepted that.''
Bosh says he finds it awkward to engage with some of his ex-teammates. They are still in the moment, with the spotlight shining brightly on them, and he is a sobering reminder of how it can all go bad in a heartbeat. Because of that, some of them avoid him.
"We are so egotistical when we're playing," Bosh says. "We're like, 'This is all about me. They're talking about me on ESPN, I'm making all this money, I'm winning all these games.'
"Those moments where 20,000 people are watching you, and you hit the game winner? It's an incredible feeling."
He pauses, wistfully.
"I would love,'' Bosh says, "to experience that feeling one more time.''