After Illness Ended Chris Bosh's NBA Career, Here's How He Found A New Purpose
"I have a choice," says Chris Bosh. "Is this going to help me, or is it going to hurt me?"
“Enjoy what you're doing,” says Chris Bosh, “because you might not be able to do it forever.”
He knows that all too well.
Bosh was a star player on the Miami Heat, with two championships and 11 All-Star appearances to his name. But blood clots kept appearing in his body. In 2017, his doctors determined that the clots were life-threatening — and that he had to stop playing basketball as a result. His career ended abruptly in the middle of a season.
For years afterward, Bosh struggled to find a new direction for his life — and he channeled those feelings, and the lessons he learned throughout his career, into a new book called Letters to a Young Athlete. It’s a book of advice for anyone trying to compete at a high level, but the act of writing it also served as therapy for Bosh himself.
In this conversation, Bosh shares how he coped with the end of one career — and how, after a lot of struggle, he learned to find a new identity and passion.
Hear the full conversation on my podcast Problem Solvers. Or, read an abbreviated version below.
After your NBA career ended, you did what I think anyone would have done: You tried to solve your medical problem and get back into basketball. But once it became clear that there was no way back, how did you find another purpose for yourself?
Oh boy. I never saw myself not playing the game. I had hobbies and things that I loved, but my focus was to be the best in the world at the game. So when everything stopped, it was not easy. Because it's like, what the hell am I going to do?
I read all these self-help books and entrepreneurship books, and they said, “Just do what you love.” And I was like, yeah, OK, easier said than done. Now I'm in this position where I have to find what I love!
We always talk about how you must have perseverance, because you've got to get through tough times. It sounds good when you're saying it, right? But then when you're really going through it, it's a huge challenge. So I wanted to rise to the occasion. I wanted to prove to myself that I could weather the storm, and I could get through the tough times and make it on other side with something of value.
I always wrote things down. I had always written throughout my childhood and adulthood. So I found myself writing even more when I was out the game. Did it make sense at the time? No, it did not. It was very foggy. But I just continued to do it, and in staying with it, things just started materializing. I got the idea to write the book that I wanted to read before a game. I've read so many books, so this is me filling in the gaps of the things that I would have liked to have read to motivate me.
In other words, you just put yourself in a position to figure out what’s next. You thought, Let me just start with something I’m passionate about — and as long as I’m in a position to try something, growth will happen.
Absolutely. I came to the realization that, OK, I have a choice: Is this going to help me, or is it going to hurt me? I choose that is going to help me. And it's going to propel me. I may be down right now. But this situation is going to propel me to where I need to go, because what other option do I have?
That's one of the main lessons that I learned as an athlete, in pursuing championships and greatness. It's just not going to be handed over to you. You're going to have obstacles and challenges. You're going to have to get over them. You're going to have to problem-solve on a consistent basis — and that's OK. You just have to attack it with enthusiasm.
I joke that, in writing a book about obstacles, I had to get over obstacles in the book. It was like a live self-reflection. It took three years.
What you’re describing reminds me of something entrepreneurs do all the time — or at least should do! — which is that they reframe failure as data. They step back from bad experiences and think, “What can I learn from this that’ll help me rebuild?” Do you agree? Can failure be data?
Absolutely. Back in 2011, we lost to the Dallas Mavericks in the NBA finals. It was crushing. It was heartbreaking. That's my hometown. I saw people that I grew up with and played high school basketball with wearing Dallas Mavericks championship jerseys. After that soul-crushing, embarrassing loss, I had to find myself. I had to be like, OK, this is what we did wrong. This is what happened. But yeah, we took it as data. These are the data points of what we've got to get better at.
I was able to transfer that disappointment and that heartbreak [into the book]. I can flip it and let athletes or entrepreneurs know that, hey man, do it. Don't wait. Put it into action. Enjoy what you're doing. Put your heart and soul into it. Because you might not be able to do it forever. Athletes think it's never going to end — and it ended abruptly for me. So I would encourage people to enjoy what you're doing. Have some spirit about it, even on the tough days.
That's why you have to do what you love — because on those tough days, you're going to have to push through and fight. But if you love what you're doing, that's where the magic happens. Kobe [Bryant] always told me that. The magic is on those days where you're like, ugh… but you're doing what you love. And you're in the grind.
In my thing, I took it as a challenge. That that's not to say it was easy, or that I had the Eureka moment right away. I have to consistently work at it. But I love writing, so I'm going to write every day.
And that way, you’re always building towards what’s next.
That's the thing. It's not an ending! I’m a writer and a musician now. You might have to start back at square one, man, but it is what it is. I try my best to have a good day and do what I love, and then just go from there.
Jason Feifer is the editor in chief of Entrepreneur magazine, and host of two podcasts: Build For Tomorrow, a show about the changes that got us here, and how to thrive in a changing world; and Problem Solvers, about entrepreneurs solving unexpected problems in their business. He writes a newsletter about how to find opportunity in change.
Prior to Entrepreneur, Jason has worked as an editor at Men's Health, Fast Company, Maxim, and Boston magazine, and has written about business and technology for the Washington Post, Slate, New York, and others.