Chris Bosh has a message

The Last Chip

Chris Bosh may have been forced into medical retirement from the NBA (because of recurrent blood clots) but he sounds healthy on the phone. Calm, happy, wise. He lives in Austin, a place he enjoys. There are some authentic parenting asides as we talk. He says his health is good, his family is doing well, and he has no complaints. 

He is also launching into life as a storyteller, and just became the first NBA player on Substack, launching an email newsletter called The Last Chip—where he will tell the stories of the Heat’s 2012-2013 season.

We spoke by phone on Thursday, our talk has been edited a little for length and clarity.

Before The Decision, I spent the draft day with NBA agent Dan Fegan. He thought LeBron, who had already starred in Nike’s Jesus-like “Witness” campaign, needed a title immediately or would become a laughingstock. Did you feel that kind of pressure in Miami?
That’s always been Bron’s thing, hearing that.

I feel that we helped change the course of the NBA. … We wanted to break out of that. 

Empower ourselves. If you’re in position to do that, it’s an amazing thing. We had the foresight to gain that flexibility, to all be free agents at the same time. Of course the TV show became infamous. Bron went through that stuff. But you can make the decisions you want to make.

Before that summer, guys would be in the league, they would get in the league and sign a four-year deal. And at the end of those they’d sign an extension for six years. The first time you’re a free agent is TEN YEARS in. 

If you’re trying to win a championship, you don’t have much flexibility. We were pretty young into our careers. But people were dealing with that pressure to win a championship. Bron had MJ comparisons and all that stuff. 

We felt that we were changing the course of how things were going. Bron’s under the pressure. D won one already, he wanted to get back. It became this game of chess. Boston at that time had the big three, they were juggernauts. 

I heard it was Leon Rose’s idea to sign a three-year deal.
I don’t know. I spoke to my agent. We had an open conversation with the players about the possibilities. You could sign a three-year deal, and that seemed interesting. 

The story is a lot of those conversations began on Team USA in 2008, and it mattered that Nick Arison [son of Heat governor Micky] was there.
Nick was there, but I can’t say that was like the breeding ground. It was too much pressure to win a gold medal. It would have been way cooler if we had more conversations. Maybe D and Bron had a couple conversations. I know I didn’t. I wasn’t even thinking about it. I was trying to be like those guys, going deep into the playoffs.

When did you start thinking about joining them?
I would say as free agency got closer. The 08/09 year, I had a lot going on with myself. I kind of came to some realization how hard it is to win in the NBA. I was still very optimistic. I really tried my best to excel the team. Trying harder and trying harder with no results became deflating. I believe Kobe was coming off the back-to-back. LeBron had been to the Finals, D had won one. And I’m not even scratching the surface. Not even competitive in the first round yet. It was a little deflating, trying everything I could do to be a great player.

Winning a title, it’s many other moving parts. Part of it is taking your lumps. You have to be resilient.

My understanding is that it almost happened in Chicago.
They had some cap space and they made a hard push. But they couldn’t get all three of us.

One of the things they did was they were trying to put me in the middle. They were saying if you come somebody’s definitely coming. Taj Gibson, Joakim, Luol, D. Rose who was coming off an MVP season … that was a very very solid foundation. And they were on rookie contracts. They had the potential to be pretty good. 

But you were living under Mike’s shadow. 

They were trying to negotiate with me: If you just sign …

Did you consider it?
I did consider it. I didn’t at first. But people start getting in your ear, and it’s a whole other ballgame.

I did a lot of research on the mentality of elite athletes. Many of them are a little OCD. Getting up earlier, working out more, eating more carefully. That’s how you excel as an athlete. But it can also be a recipe to be disappointed in teammates who don’t commit as hard. Was part of the appeal of teaming up with LeBron and Dwayne that you’d have teammates who were as committed as you?
Kinda. There is some of that. But the narrative changed. Once we got out there, it’s just so clear it’s hard to win a championship. It’s new territory. We were constantly dealing with that, at every different level. Having to deal with the pressure, on eggshells with the media. Anything you do wrong will be inflated. It’s just a part of the game. 

Once we got used to it, we obviously knew we had to pour ourselves into the team. I’m sure Pat Riley knew how things were going to be perceived, after The Decision, then our thing that we did in the stadium in Miami, which we enjoyed and nobody else did unless you were in Miami.

It added fuel to the fire. By the time the season started, we were in full-blown mode. Adjusting to a new city, new situations. And trying to learn a new organization and a new city at the same time.

Did the backlash surprise you?
I was surprised. I was coming from Toronto. That was my naivete at the time. I thought People will understand, they will love watching us play like MJ and the Bulls back in the day, not really understanding there’s other sides to it. I was not taking the outside projection into effect. Thinking about fans in Miami I thought how cool that was going to be.

I knew Toronto would be upset, but I didn’t anticipate the rest of the backlash. It came in unforeseen ways. Especially myself. I went from nobody really caring, to be honest with you--north of the border, that was pre-Drake, still mixtape Drake--nobody cared!

Then they do care, and it’s to give their opinion on myself or the team. It wasn’t always nice. 

Were you reading the comments? Do you remember some particular thing someone said?
I was avid in social media. I was active on Twitter as soon as it came out. It would ruin my day.

When I was new to it it was catching me off guard. At the time I’m like reading it ruined my day. Finally I was like damn, I have to step back.

A particular day, we had like kind of a family reunion. I just remember I was driving on my local road where I used to live and I was just reading this comment after comment. And I was like OK I can’t do this any more. I didn’t expect this. I shouldn't feel like this looking at a phone screen. That was only the summer! We still had a month until training camp.

Something happened online that summer. Barack Obama was in the White House, LeBron made his decision, and it unleashed something. I can’t help but feel like the online fear of black power that is such a big deal with Trump’s supporters in 2020 … has roots in 2010. 
Let’s be honest, as a black man in America, we did understand the animosity. We keep using that word. The poisonous word. I’ve been disappointed in a lot of things. The comments, reporters going off about this or that that has nothing to do with sports. Attacking character. All these things.

You can do whatever you want! You’re a free agent! You can make mistakes. Whatever you want to do. They only showed the people burning jerseys, though. Not the people enjoying the money that was raised at the Boys and Girls club. Why not take both sides? “Hey Bron thanks for raising that money for starving kids.”

The tone of that feedback was, wow. I’ve never heard that tone before.

We were black men empowering themselves, coming to work together. It was not like 

LeBron signed a one-year 200 million-dollar deal to play by himself in Bron world.

You do notice the difference in the tone. How it was sensationalized.

It was what it was.

Does that summer feel at all connected to you to this summer, Trump and all that?
There’s things that in America people haven’t talked about. Being frank: The country was founded on slavery. That’s a known fact that can not be escaped. Of course there are going to be underlying tones in a society, of oppression, and racism. It’s naturally built in. 

And for women too. Women were not in the room when they were writing the Constitution. That all has to be thought about while we’re working into these things.

I’m from Dallas. I have family in Alabama, Mississippi with rich history with NAACP and being involved in the cause. Black history was HUGE in my family. Knowing these things was super important. I’ve been aware. But I’m still learning. 

Lets’ just come out and admit it. Let’s not act like it’s not there. Confederate flag is heritage? That’s fine, ok. But you can go all over the world: the second-place statues, the flags, they eradicate it.

I saw a recent interview with Maverick Carter and his question was: What’s the ask? What is the legislation we want right now? What do we do?
It’s a conversation. Everyone has to be open. And as a black man in America I can’t be all oh well now you want to help us. That’s not going to do anything. You have to fight that initial wave.

This is a conversation I had with my father, he had with his father, and my grandfather had with his father … It’s a generational thing. 

We have been talking about it for decades. Now it’s a game of catch up. We have to be understanding and listen when people ask, Hey what do I do here?

When my white friend asks, What can I do? I have to handle it with grace. We are coming from essentially different worlds.

Who makes you feel good these days? Who inspires you? 
Bubba Wallace and Lewis Hamilton.

Lewis Hamilton is the Formula One driver who always wins.
He always wins! He’s a champ. And he is a dear friend. We have had great conversations about his struggles in that sport. It’s real. But now imagine NASCAR. A black NASCAR driver?

Lewis told me his stories, but think about a Southeastern sport!

To stand up, to have success, to have a voice. The thing in Talladega, it’s amazing to see. The togetherness. The camaraderie in the sport. We’re talking about people’s livelihood.

Are you happy with the NBA’s response?
I’m always happy with the NBA. Adam Silver always does a great job. The conversations are always open. He always leaves the door open for it. Speaking out, using a voice. Being able to actually put things into action. The league has always been great with that.

Friday on TrueHoop: Making the decision to enter the NBA bubble.