Two years ago last month, I was in Miami, watching my family name ascend into the rafters. That day, I felt something I’d never felt before. Not glory, exactly, since I’d felt that when we won NBA championships, but a new kind of recognition, a recognition that I was a contributor to the game I had dedicated myself to since I was a boy, shooting jumpers in the park with my Dad.
It’s a feeling I’ll remember forever—seeing my name hung up in American Airlines Arena, a name that belonged to my grandfather, Daddy Jack Bosh, who grew up in the south, a name I was proud to pass down to my own kids.
It’s the kind of feeling you expect to encounter only once. And then, earlier this month, I felt it again, when I processed the fact that I was named a finalist for the Hall of Fame. Making it to Springfield? Man, that would be the honor of a lifetime.
But the choice isn’t up to me now—so instead of telling you what it would mean to join my heroes in the Hall, I want to be straight with you about what guys like me go through when our careers are over.
I spoke to a friend of mine recently, a guy from the training camp days, who has been playing pro ball around the world for a decade now. Retirement was knocking, he told me, and he wasn’t sure what to do next—how to go from 100 to zero.
When you play ball for a living, life is hyper-regimented, hyper-organized, and hyper-strenuous. You give your life to the game—and so do your families. That’s true of all professional players, famous or not. We put it all out there because we love basketball, because we are living their dreams.
All that makes it daunting to confront a future without the game at its center. Hell, as I mentioned earlier, I had the best retirement ceremony anyone could ask for—our arena packed to the gills. “Seven Nation Army” blasting through the speakers as they introduced me. A highlight reel and a blooper reel. Speeches from Pat Riley and Dwyane Wade that I’ll remember forever. A chance to thank my teammates, coaches, fans and family, right in front of all of them. And still: It felt like my heart had been ripped out of my chest. The only thing I’d ever wanted to do was play ball for a living. On that day in the arena, standing in front of the crowd and cameras, I realized that’s exactly what I’d done. But what was I supposed to do now?
I understand why people might laugh at that question—in many senses, things will be fine for former ballplayers like my friend and me. We’ve made money, and there are many post-retirement opportunities for players to keep supporting themselves and their families.
But no matter what, leaving the game behind is scary—traumatic, even. Especially when it’s not planned. I always figured I’d be playing past the age I am now, and coming to terms with the fact that I wouldn’t was a process that tested me. Even two years ago, we weren’t having the same conversations about mental health that we are now. But I was lucky to have people to talk to. And now, I’m lucky to be that person for folks like my friend who are going through the same transition.
I told him that not everyone would understand what he’d be going through; that when you give your life to something, you don’t necessarily have another one waiting for you when you move on; that enter your next chapter—Life in the Real World, we call it—is a matter of finding out what that chapter is first.
In my case, I knew I wanted to keep making ripples. As a player, I’d had the privilege of traveling the world, connecting with people on other continents over our shared love for the game. I reflected on how I could keep pushing that ripple effect outwards, even though I had to hang up my jersey. Now, as an author of an upcoming book (which you can preorder!), I’m able to reach people I hoped I would as a player, in a way I never could have imagined. I’m also spending time with my family I wouldn’t trade for anything, and figuring out the next gold trophies to chase after. (Have you heard my music?)
Since learning the Hall of Fame news, I’ve been thinking a lot about my childhood—growing up with posters of basketball players on my walls. And I’ve realized I’m one of those guys for the next generation of kids. Whether I make it to Springfield this year or not, the fact that the kid at the park with his dad has come this far is special.
Every day, I feel grateful to be where I am. And I have to believe that whatever the next dream is, I’m going to put as much work into chasing it as I did chasing this one back on that court, thirty years ago.