Retired basketball superstar Chris Bosh says one of the proudest moments of his NBA career couldn’t have happened without learning a tough lesson early on.
As a relative rookie with the Toronto Raptors, then-coach Sam Mitchell benched Bosh after a lacklustre performance on defence.
“[Mitchell] said, ‘It’s unacceptable for you to be the best player on one end of the floor and not the other,'” Bosh told The Sunday Magazine’s host Piya Chattopadhyay.
Bosh’s new book Letters to a Young Athlete recounts this and other stories across his Hall of Fame basketball career. But while he calls it “a memento to basketball,” it’s also “a memento to life,” offering a perspective on his post-NBA life.
Looking back to playing in Game 7 of the NBA finals with the Miami Heat, against the San Antonio Spurs, Bosh said he wasn’t impressing anyone with his plays — not the least himself.
“If you’re a kid and you’re visualizing [playing in] a Game 7, you’re on fire. Everybody’s like, ‘Yeah!’ You’re listening to the crowd roar. And right then and there, [I knew] that was not going to be my reality. So I did not let that affect how I contributed to the team,” he said.
Instead, Bosh channelled Mitchell’s advice from years ago, and focused on guarding against one of the Spurs’ stars, Tim Duncan.
Bosh didn’t score a single point that game. But his defence helped usher the team to victory and his second consecutive NBA championship.
“That was my proudest moment, because I didn’t freak out,” he recalled.
That championship win capped off a career that includes being named to 11 All-Star teams, not to mention seven years with the Toronto Raptors. His career was cut short in 2016 because of a series of recurring blood clots.
Last month, Bosh was announced as part of the NBA’s 2021 Hall of Fame class — in his first year of eligibility.
Finding your ‘why’
Bosh writes about the importance of “finding your why”: what your purpose is in life, what you want to do for the rest of your life, but most importantly, understanding why you want to do it.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, he found his “why” in shooting hoops with his friends at an early age.
“Basketball was just in my blood, you know…. I did it because I enjoyed it, and I enjoyed expressing myself,” he told Chattopadhyay.
WATCH | Chris Bosh reads an excerpt from Letters To A Young Athlete
Bosh admits that when he was young, becoming a famous basketball player like Michael Jordan, leading a team and appearing on magazine covers, was part of the equation. But fame and money “go by very quick,” he said, and won’t solve all of the challenges you face along the way.
Whether it be basketball or accounting, he said people need to ask themselves the “whys” from multiple angles to truly determine if it’s what they want to do, or what someone else merely suggests they should do.
“You’ve got to go about five or six or seven levels deep. Some people can’t pass two. And if you can’t do that, then maybe you should reconsider where you’re at, and switch it up.”
Despite the high-level demands of professional sports, Bosh writes in the book that he always made time to cultivate new hobbies and interests outside the game.
“One off-season, I taught myself how to code. Another, I took guitar lessons,” he wrote. “During the playoffs, I would cook dinner in the evenings. It helped me get my mind off the situations in the media or on the court.”
These diverse interests helped make him a better player in addition to serving as a distraction from the sport, he said — sometimes directly. One of his favourite pre-game rituals involves reading a novel.
“I knew it was going to be chaotic during this game. We’re about to play a basketball game. It’s going to be 20,000 screaming fans. You know, I’m going to have to push my body past its limits again,” he said.
“But for right now, until then, I’m going to sit here, and read my book. It just became a habit for me, and it put me in that mind frame to be able to go out there and perform.”
Bosh says he’s currently reading former U.S. president Barack Obama’s 2020 memoir Promised Land.
“Him being the first Black president, I’m like, ‘yep, this has got to be our Bible.’ Just as a Black man [myself], I have to read this book.”
‘Aspire to do great things’
Bosh was forced to find a new “why” in abrupt fashion, due to a recurring issue with blood clots. He was taken off the court permanently in 2016, right before being scheduled to play in the 2016 All-Star Game, which was hosted in Toronto.
“It’s a trip for me watching basketball now, because they’ll say, ‘Oh yes, Steph Curry’s 33, I think. K.D. [Kevin Durant] is 32,” said Bosh, who is now 37 and five years into his forced retirement.
Bosh resolved to find the next step in his life, he said, to support his family, including his wife and five children.
WATCH | Bosh on how he felt when he learned his basketball career was over
“That snapped me into reality and helped ground me,” he said. “And then, you know, I started finding ways to be successful after that.”
Part of that success includes his philanthropy and youth outreach, encouraging kids to pursue their interests in sports and academics, especially reading.
He hopes Letters to a Young Athlete will do the same, helping readers find their focus in life, whether it be in athletics, art, programming or something else entirely.
“I want to pay that forward and hopefully help someone aspire to do great things.”
Written by Jonathan Ore. Produced by Sarah-Joyce Battersby.