After Tragedies, NBA Players Association Takes Medical Testing to Heart

The National Basketball Players Association recently began testing former stars for heart conditions. The move comes just a few months after two former basketball stars died from heart ailments.

In a lot of ways, National Basketball Association (NBA) players are like well-oiled machines—hitting the floor night after night, making the most out of four quarters and and some change.

But those players eventually retire, and they often don’t run at the same speed after they replace basketball with whatever’s next. If their health isn’t closely monitored, the outcome can be tragic.

Earlier this year, two iconic NBA stars of the 1970s and 1980s—three-time league MVP Moses Malone, 60, and fellow Philadelphia 76ers star Darryl Dawkins, 58—died suddenly of heart conditions within three weeks of each other. With these losses top of mind, the National Basketball Players Association (NBPA), the league’s players union, launched a health-screenings program for retired players over the weekend.

With the support of the NBA and the Houston Rockets, which hosted the former players inside its facilities, the association had physicians meet with the retired hoops shooters to check out a number of vital health factors, including blood pressure, medical history, and evidence of sleep apnea. The doctors also administered electrocardiograms and offered the ex-players cellphone attachments that can perform EKGs and transmit the results to physicians, according to an ESPN story.

Both the league and the union are attempting to be proactive on the issue, which evokes a similar medical crisis involving the National Football League: brain injuries suffered by former NFL stars. Junior Seau, a former linebacker for the San Diego Chargers, committed suicide in 2012; after the National Institutes of Health had his brain scanned and studied, experts concluded that it showed signs of chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a neurodegenerative disease common among former NFL players.

The health troubles among NBA players are relatively new and untested. Joe Rogowski, NBPA’s recently hired director of sports medicine and research, is among those investigating the possible link between pro basketball players and heart issues.

“We’re looking for trends,” Rogowski said in an interview with ESPN. “There’s never been a real study that looks at this population and looks for norms and trends. They’re bigger. They carry more weight, which leads to other factors, such as diabetes and high blood pressure.”

According to NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, the league is taking the issue seriously.

“It’s an extremely high priority for us,” Silver said in October. “The cardiac issues our players have experienced are well known.”

Former NBA superstar Moses Malone, center, who died from a heart condition in September. (Wikimedia Commons)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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