Better heart testing for NBA players has resulted in an increasing number of diagnosed heart abnormalities over the last several years.
by Duane Watson / @sweetswatson
On September 21, 2012, Phoenix Suns forward Channing Frye became the newest member of a special NBA fraternity. He didn’t gain entry by signing a $30 million deal (which he’s done) or by making 9 three-pointers in a single game (which he’s also done). Rather, his diagnosis of dilated cardiomyopathy (an enlarged heart) puts him in a club with Etan Thomas, Ronny Turiaf, Fred Hoiberg, Cuttino Mobley, Chris Wilcox and Jeff Green. All play or recently played in the NBA, all were deemed to have heart abnormalities and all missed a varying amount of games, not only forcing them to question their future on the court, but their quality of life away from it.
“When Dr. Byrne told me things weren’t working right, I was like, Maybe it’s just a glitch in the system,” Frye says. “But after doing all the tests, it’s just one of those things you come to terms with, and this is my reality and I have to deal with it and just stay positive.”
Frye is likely to sit out this entire NBA season, as his recommended treatment is rest and minimal aerobic activity. Just last season, Boston Celtics forward Jeff Green wasn’t as fortunate to get off with some doctor prescribed R and R. Green had surgery for an aortic aneurism in December, causing him to miss the entire season. Two months later, Green’s current teammate in Boston and former teammate in Seattle, Chris Wilcox, had surgery for an aortic abnormality. Fortunately, as it was detected early, both players are back at full strength and getting minutes for the Celts this season.
Diagnosing the problem is the first step in avoiding a repeat of the tragic heart-related deaths of Hank Gathers and Reggie Lewis in the early ’90s. More than a decade later, prior to the ’06-07 season, the NBA mandated stringent procedures for heart testing, where all teams were told they must conduct echocardiograms on all players every preseason.
These are not traditional sports injuries; the effects and implications of these heart conditions clearly have a far-reaching impact. “It’s not a knee, it’s not a shoulder, it’s not your foot,” says Frye. “It’s not something they can say, ‘This is going to get better if you do A, B, C or D.’ This is something that’s internal.”
Thankfully, NBA players these days are receiving unparalleled medical attention and have this inner-circle of peers to help them through their diagnoses.