We are suckers for sentimentality in sports, for the deep sigh and the tears shed, and Chris Bosh seemed a natural candidate to satiate that appetite for emotion. Here was one of the most earnest and transparent athletes of the modern age, playing in his first sanctioned NBA game — albeit preseason — on the Heat’s home floor, less than eight months after he was riddled with tubes and pierced with needles, his pulmonary embolism putting his career squarely in jeopardy.
And Bosh did show emotion Sunday. Plenty. He showed it after the Heat had fallen 90-77 to the short-handed Hornets, flashing much of the promise and a few of the shortcomings that might define the team’s upcoming sea son. He showed it after he’d addressed the press, assuring reporters that they could save their tissues, since everything about this felt absolutely, entirely “regular” and “normal,” and that “if you put a fish back into water, he’s gonna swim.” He showed it as he bugged out his eyes while barking and woofing at the locker room TV, urging on the Cowboys defense, before bouncing away in a Dallas T-shirt.
“You really have to take these moments and just be grateful for him — not take him for granted, not be so wrapped up in your business that you can’t appreciate how awesome that is,” coach Erik Spoelstra said. “Where he was when I saw him in the hospital bed last February and then to get him out there right now — he looked great.”
Even better, Bosh can look forward. He has moved on, and so now can everyone else, and although that might seem like a small thing, it is anything but. All he wanted to be, while deep in his ordeal, missing every game after the 2015 All-Star break, was a basketball player again, and that’s what he is. A good one, still. On Sunday, in fact, he was the best one on the Heat side.
The night officially started as he was introduced third among the Heat starters, to slightly louder cheers than Luol Deng or even local favorite Udonis Haslem received, then with a thumbs up at the scorer’s table and handshakes at center count.
But no tears.
And no fear.
He was aggressive from the start, trying to cross up Marvin Williams, getting fouled, making a free throw before missing the second. Then he ducked in down the baseline, taking a Deng pass for an easy layin. Then a finger-roll, off a touch from Goran Dragic, with whom he never got to play last season.
He finished his work in the third quarter, totaling 23 minutes, 14 points, including one of his feathery jumpers, plus seven rebounds and a couple of assists — most notably a slick squatting between-the-legs drop to Dwyane Wade for a driving layup.
“He was channeling his inner Josh McRoberts,” Wade joked later, referring to the Heat’s backup forward, who has a flair for the flashy feed. “He gives you a lane, and you have momentum.”
Bosh just won’t give any momentum to the sappy stuff. Not now. Not anymore. Not publicly.
“I don’t know what he’s saying behind closed doors,” Wade said.
But what he’s said to Wade, a six-year teammate who has become an increasingly close friend, is what he’s been saying to us: that he’s just excited to be playing again, nothing profound beyond that.
Bosh’s wife Adrienne, sitting in her usual corner-floor seat, opposite the Heat bench, with her dressed-to-the-nines daughter Trinity and son Jackson, allowed only a little more.
“He’s cheering Daddy on,” she said of Jackson, before adding, “You know [Chris] is in his 13th year, but it gave him a new love for it. And they’re so happy to see him out there.”
As are his teammates, of course. They need him. Maybe not as much as last season, when he and Wade were expected to handle all the load. But the guy who Spoelstra used to call the Heat’s “most important player,” even when LeBron James was around, is still critical to this team’s success. He offers spacing and savvy, among so many other things.
“That’s amazing that he’s able to come back,” Wade said. “He missed a lot of time last year. And he looks like he hasn’t missed a step.
“He’s comfortable in his game. That’s the biggest thing.”
Comfortable with his body, too.
On Sunday, he insisted there were no more benchmarks, as far as his rehabilitation.
“Oh, no, I’m good, man,” Bosh said. “I’m good to go. I take it as I got rest. If you would have asked me about health five, six months ago, that would have been an issue. But that was then, and I’ve had all this time to really build back up from that. So the health is behind me. I’ve done everything necessary to get to this point. Now I’m back playing basketball, so my mental health is back where it’s supposed to be.”
Back, and beyond it.
“Nothing was taken from me,” Bosh said. “I only gained.”