After a long battle with a spinal condition, TJ Ford decided to retire in the middle of last season. Now he’s finding peace in his new life.
as told to Yaron Weitzman / @YaronWeitzman
When I went down last year, lying on the ground there, I knew that was it for my career. I just told myself, “I’m done.” Mentally, I just didn’t have the energy to put in the effort that I knew coming back from an injury like that—again—would need. And if you don’t have that, then there’s no way you can get to the point where you’re healthy enough to not be worried about getting hurt again while playing. Especially since that last incident with Baron [Davis] was such a regular shove in the back, the kind of play that happens all the time—I always listen to my body and that was my body saying “enough.”
Before that, the closest I came to quitting was in 2007, when I fell after Al Horford fouled me on a fast break. I remember telling my family that I didn’t want to play anymore. I think that went on for about two weeks before I calmed down. Eventually, I realized that I had the support of my family and my close friends, so I just went back into the lab with Coach [John] Lucas—who had helped me come back the first time—and got back to work. But that whole thing definitely scared me. They all scared me. I remember every hit and every time I went down. Each time I wondered if that was it.
One thing that made it easier for me to walk away was that I always knew that, because I have this condition of spinal stenosis, I wouldn’t be able to play as many years as I would have liked. I actually feel like I was fortunate to be able to play nine years in the League when the odds of me doing that were so slim. And the fact that I’ve made it out of the League completely healthy—after having those times where I was lying on the ground, pretty much paralyzed—I feel blessed and proud of what I was able to accomplish.
Now that I’m retired, what I miss most is being in the locker room and around the guys, traveling with them and talking basketball. I don’t miss the actual act of playing in NBA games or the basketball part of being an NBA player, because I feel like I lasted longer than anyone thought I would. I miss the camaraderie that comes with being on a team. That’s been the toughest part for me. There are a lot of guys in the League that I’m close with, and right now those guys are on different schedules than I am. Now I got all this free time and those guys are working. We don’t get to talk as much as we did when I was playing.
What’s helping right now is that I’m keeping real busy. I’m doing some broadcasting for the Longhorn Network; I’m taking classes at Texas—I’ve got about two-and-a-half years left before I get my degree in education—and I’m also working out NBA and college guys and starting a youth academy to train younger kids. That’s actually one of the reasons I’m going back to get my degree. I felt that if I was going to be preaching education to kids and try to be a positive figure for them, then going back to school and getting my degree was something that I had to do.