Chris Bosh: ‘Friends told me to buy a Ferrari, I just wanted a car I could fit in’

Sport

“It was an unfinished piece of work, but it was still Hall of Fame-worthy and how special is that?” reflected former Miami Heat and Toronto Raptors star Chris Bosh, as he prepared to be enshrined in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame last weekend.

“Unfinished” is an interesting word to describe a career that yielded two NBA championships, four finals appearances as part of the Heat’s Big Three, an Olympic gold medal and 11 All Star selections in 13 seasons. However, it’s accurate.

Bosh was forced to retire from the sport when, in 2016, at just 31, he suffered a reoccurrence of the blood clots that had doctors and the Heat organisation “fearing for my life” if he continued to play. While Bosh tells the Guardian he has made peace with the shattering end to a glittering career, this accolade also brings some closure.

“In my opinion, I needed more time, but I guess it was good enough,” says Bosh, now 37. “I aspire to do so many more things, but to have my body of work as a player be cemented in the Hall of Fame? It’s crazy I was able to reach those heights so quickly.”

A tenacious and imposing defender, a canny and often explosive offensive talent with an incredible knack of hauling in critical rebounds (including one of the most famous in NBA history), Bosh has diversified significantly since retirement. He’s learned to code, to play the guitar, is producing music and, most recently, has written a book with advice for young athletes. He’s also continued to be a vocal and compassionate advocate for social justice. Will Hall of Fame status give him an even greater platform moving forward?

“I’m still figuring out what this platform even is, you know?” he says. “I’ve always believed in exercising your right to use your voice and if you see something that isn’t right to speak up about it. I’ve always wanted to encourage people to positively spread those messages. Now it’s continuing to figure out how, as an elder statesman, to speak on these issues that speak to me.”

In his 2021 book, Letters To A Young Athlete, Bosh seeks to guide them (“and any person with a goal”) through the tribulations he faced, combined with the wisdom he acquired as that self-professed “elder statesman” of the NBA. In an era where young athletes have also assumed greater responsibility as advocates with the power to effect social change, it’s all about finding balance, Bosh says.

“This has been part of the athlete experience for a long time; since the Cleveland Summit in 1967 and the Mexico City Games in 1968. It’s nothing new, but this is definitely a new space in time,” he says.

“A lot of people, including Colin Kaepernick, took a lot of heat. We learned how things are going to be perceived and none of the athletes let that deter them from speaking up. It’s such a great thing that everyone has and knows their voice. The Milwaukee Bucks deciding not to play – because of how they’d been affected by seeing another black man brutalised by the police – was a powerful message.

“Moving forward it’s about finding that balance, it’s all about finding those issues that are important to you, but knowing how to use your voice and do your job at the same time. Understanding where you are as a person and what you want to accomplish.”

Outside of the professional realm, more changes are afoot for young athletes; namely the ability for NCAA student athletes to earn financial compensation for use of their name, image and likeness. It’s the first step towards an environment where college stars can be paid to play for their school. Bosh has long been a believer in this progression and says it’s a great first step for young people who won’t necessarily see the riches of professional sport.

He says: “The new ‘name, image and likeness’ rules will create a whole market of opportunity for the field hockey player, or the gymnast that has dedicated four years of her life. Sure, she’s got a degree but, man, that was a lot of time and it’d be nice to have a little head start, you know?

“It’ll definitely help college football players too because it’s simple math. There are seven rounds in the NFL draft. You could be the greatest running back that anyone has ever seen at Utah State, for example, and you won’t even sniff the NFL. You’re arguably the 10th-best running back in the world at that level and you might not even get on an NFL practice squad.

“It’s important that person can use their leverage at the time they have it. It puts the power in the athlete’s hands and there’s no better time than now.”

Will the new rules make it harder for college players to keep their eye on the eventual prize of making it to the professional game? Could there be other adverse effects of having access to the rewards at a younger age?

“It wouldn’t have affected me,” Bosh says. “I had no concept of money when I was 19. Even when I got drafted and bought my first car, I didn’t know what to get. I had friends that were telling me ‘yo, you should get a Ferrari.’ I just wanted something I could fit in and get to the gym!

“It’s a brand-new responsibility on our student athletes to navigate these waters. There’ll be some sharks I’m sure, but hopefully, people will be able to guide these young athletes through their next endeavours.

“We always had a saying at the Heat: Let’s keep the main thing the main thing. It’s about being successful, it’s not about how many followers you have. It’s about the message, it’s not about the comments section. It’s not about how much money you make, it’s about your happiness and you waking up and striving for something, to be better every day.

Speaking of the Heat, Bosh says the tensions that developed following his career-ending condition have eased and calls his current relationship with the team “phenomenal”. His No 1 Jersey was retired by Miami in 2019 and Heat president Pat Riley (along with former teammate and that rebound recipient Ray Allen) presented him in Springfield, Massachusetts on Saturday night.

“They will always be family,” he says. “The business can be difficult sometimes. Once upon a time, it was tough because they couldn’t talk to me, and I couldn’t talk to them. I still wanted to play, and they were fearing for my life.

“Both sides always kept it professional, and I think both sides got what they wanted. As soon as I was released by them after the decision that they had to make, and I had to make [to retire], we were right back to speaking.”

Bosh has been around the team more in recent years but talk of a return to basketball, or the Heat organisation in a new capacity are premature, he says.

“I’ve let it be known that coaching isn’t in my near future. I’m not saying no, but right now my children are very young and we’re putting everything into them. There are other things that I aspire to do.

“I’ve always got a close eye on the game, I’ve got people giving me my film, I’ve got coaches in high places asking me questions. That’s a great thing, that’s a privilege and hopefully one day, we’ll see what opportunity it can turn into. Right now, I’m just ‘dad’.”

On Saturday, though, it was Chris Bosh Basketball Hall of Fame Class of 2021.