Miami Heat big man Chris Bosh hasn’t played since the All-Star break, after a reoccurrence of the blood clots that sidelined him last season. According to a number of reports, though the blood clots have dissipated, Bosh and the Heat are at an impasse about when he can return to the court, and the situation is threatening to turn ugly.
Last season, Bosh’s blood clots progressed from his calf to his lungs, an incredibly serious condition that could cause a pulmonary embolism, and his death. But Bosh downplayed his condition’s seriousness this time around in his only public statement on the matter (emphasis mine):
I know there have been many questions regarding my health and when I will play again. My situation this year has never been life threatening. I am feeling great and currently I do not have deep vein thrombosis. Together with the Miami Heat, I am working with doctors, exploring the best precautionary treatment options and taking every necessary step to make sure I am healthy for myself, my family and my team.
To rid himself of the clots, Bosh takes blood thinners, which complicates playing a physical sports like basketball because all it takes is an errant elbow to lead to a serious bleeding issue. On April 23, the Miami Herald reported that Bosh and the Heat were “not all been aligned in terms of the treatment of his condition.” According to the Herald, Bosh was seeking outside medical clearance to go off the blood thinners, or to go on a different type of medication to manage his condition. But even if a doctor approved one of these alternatives, the Heat were reportedly “making it known behind the scenes that” that they still wouldn’t let him play.
Three days later, after the Heat lost Game 5 of their first round playoff series to the Hornets, Bosh’s wife sent out this tweet:
With the Heat advancing to the second round of the playoffs and at least another week or two of games, Dan Le Batard said on his radio show this morning that the player’s union was getting involved (transcript via the Herald):
“It’s a super unusual situation. I can’t think of a lot of instances where a sports organization is acting in what appears to be the best interest of the player over their own interests and against the will of the player. From the people I’m talking to, Chris Bosh wants back on the court and now, and the Heat on medical advice are saying absolutely not.... They badly want to get to an Eastern Conference Finals against LeBron and they are telling him, ‘No, you cannot work.’...
“The Miami Heat and Chris Bosh are at a crossroads. There is a conflict here that promises to get a little bit messier. Now I’m hearing the Bosh’s want so badly on the court that they’re trying to get the union involved. They found a doctor who might be willing to clear him.... For some reason, he thinks he’s good to go and I think it’s because he’s not showing the symptoms he showed the first time.”
This is indeed an unusual situation. If Bosh were to return, the Heat would probably be favored over the Raptors, and have a puncher’s chance to beat the (presumably) Cavaliers and advance to the NBA Finals. Usually teams have things like terrible concussion protocols and attempt to get players back onto the court as quickly as possible, long-term health consequences be damned. But here the roles seem to be reversed, with Bosh seeking a fringe medical opinion to play, and the Heat saying “nah.” Of course, the Heat are likely much more concerned with the legal and public relations ramifications of Bosh having a serious medical episode on the court than about his long-term health.
Whatever the resolution in his particular case, the league is trending in the direction of regular disagreements over medical issues. Teams are seeking ever more data and control over what players do with their bodies, and while it makes sense from a competitive perspective, it is also quite creepy and certain to lead to major disputes. It’s just one more issue for the player’s union to tackle during the next collective bargaining agreement negotiations.
Update (5:30 p.m.): The NBA declined to comment, but the player’s union gave this statement: “Our top priority is Chris’ health and well-being. We have spoken with Chris and his agent, and have reached out to the Miami Heat. We are hopeful that all parties involved can meet as soon as possible to resolve the situation.”