While the news that hat basketball superstar LeBron James’ oldest son suffered a cardiac arrest on Monday morning is devastating, history shows that it also comes with a bit of a silver lining: With luck, resilience and mental fortitude, the health setback doesn’t mean for certain that the 18-year-old hoop phenom’s career on the hardcourt is over.
LeBron “Bronny” James Jr. was struck with a cardiac arrest during a workout at the University of Southern California (USC), where he accepted a basketball scholarship and to play this upcoming season before he is expected to declare for the NBA Draft. TMZ reported that he was rushed to a local hospital where he is recovering.
“Yesterday, while practicing, Bronny James suffered a cardiac arrest. Medical staff was able to treat Bronny and take him to the hospital,” a James family spokesperson told TMZ on Tuesday. “He is now in stable condition and no longer in ICU. We ask for respect and privacy for the James family and we will update media when there is more information.”
Little else is known about Bronny’s condition and outlook for the future.
And while there have been notable cases in the past where basketball players’ heart health has prevented them from playing any further – sometimes even resulting in death – there are also other and recent instances where hoopers and other athletes who have suffered cardiac arrest and worse have been able to continue their playing careers, even at the highest levels.
If their triumphs following heart health scares are any indication, Bronny James could also eventually continue his basketball career.
The American Heart Association in February drew attention to King McClure, a shooting guard at Baylor University who said he was initially told he “would die” if he continued playing basketball after being diagnosed with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM), a condition that affects how the heart pumps blood. That was in 2015.
But after seeking additional medical opinions and undergoing a procedure to implant a device into his chest, McClure was back on the court in a year’s time and went on to play 129 more games before graduating. He was a starter in nearly half of those contests.
NBA head coach Monty Williams was also diagnosed with HCM before he went on to a legendary career playing at the University of Notre Dame and ultimately got selected in the first round of the NBA Draft on his way to playing for nine seasons.
Last year, in Michigan, local media outlet News 10 reported that high school basketball standout Da’Marion Hicks suffered a cardiac arrest during a game. After doctors determined Hicks was born with a heart defect affecting his blood flow, he underwent open-heart surgery. After recovering and physical therapy, Hicks was able to rejoin the team this past season as a player.
And back in 2020, Keyontae Johnson was hospitalized after collapsing mid-game while starring for the University of Florida’s basketball team. After awakening from a medically induced coma, Johnson was ultimately diagnosed with “athlete’s heart,” which Stanford University Medicine defines as “not a medical condition.” Instead, it is described as “small increases in size both of the pumping chamber (ventricle) and filling chamber (atrium), as well as proportionate small increases in the thickness of the heart muscle.”
While Johnson missed the remainder of that season and only played in one game the following season, this past season he transferred to Kansas State University where he played every game and led his team to the coveted Elite Eight round of the NCAA Tournament. Notably, Johnson was drafted in the second round of the 2023 NBA Draft.
Then there is also the case of Jeff Green, the NBA veteran who at the end of 2011 was diagnosed with an aortic root aneurysm, a heart condition that kept him from playing in the professional basketball league. Within weeks, Green underwent open-heart surgery. The next season, Green opened the season as a starter for the Boston Celtics. This past season, Green was a key part of the Denver Nuggets NBA title team that won the league championship last month.
Basketball legend Shaquille O’Neal’s son, Shareef, was diagnosed in 2018 with a right anomalous coronary artery from which his mother told ESPN “he could’ve died.” The next year, he was cleared to return to the court. Though Shareef O’Neal went undrafted in the NBA, he just completed his first season playing in the NBA’s G League, where he was named to a team showcasing players as being “Next Up” to play in the NBA.
And it’s not just basketball, either. Barely more than three months after Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin suffered a cardiac arrest following a violent collision during a nationally televised game in January, medical specialists cleared the 25-year-old to play again in the NFL.
By no means is any of this meant to minimize the seriousness of Bronny James’ condition. He likely has a long road of recovery ahead of him.
But the above examples show that if there is a will, there can be a way forward on the boulevard of basketball.
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