On Saturday, the NBPA held a screening in the weight room of the Los Angeles Clippers' practice facility, administering EKGs and blood pressure tests, echocardiograms, a consultation with multiple physicians and cardiologists, and orthopedic evaluations to more than 40 former players.
The extensive testing, which can take several weeks to schedule and get results under normal circumstances, lasted roughly an hour-and-a-half to two hours, with results on the spot.
The players' association had screened more than 100 players heading into Saturday, with previous stops in Houston (the inaugural screening), Detroit, Atlanta, Orlando and Las Vegas. Trips to Dallas and New York are scheduled in the coming weeks.
Although the sample size isn't substantive enough to draw serious conclusions -- the NBPA believes it will take at least another year of testing to form takeaways -- the impact of the players' association being proactive, not reactive, in assessing disease and illness in retired players has been significant.
"Every screening we've come to, I've had several retired players talk to me on the side or email us at the union and say, 'Thank you for putting this together. We really appreciate it,'" said Joe Rogowski, the players' union director of sports medicine and research. "They know that the players' union cares for them. Even though they're not part of the union anymore, the fact that we're still looking out for them means a lot to them."
Several retirees told ESPN.com that it's difficult to deal with the feelings of disconnection and isolation that affect players after their careers are over. Through the outreach to former players and free screenings, some retired players are beginning to feel included again.
"Sometimes when you retire, you feel like you get kicked to the curb and you don't matter anymore," said Michael Cage, a 15-year NBA veteran who retired in 2000. "It can be cruel and a cold feeling. It's like being disconnected from The Matrix. All of this energy is running through your body. You're feeling vibrant and alive and healthy, and then all of the sudden, the cord gets pulled, and you're on your own.
"You've gotta go. You're not part of The Matrix anymore."
Cage, who is currently a broadcast analyst for the Oklahoma City Thunder, flew from Oklahoma City to be screened in Los Angeles. Others traveled from as far as Seattle, Phoenix and San Jose, as well as from all over southern California.
After the deaths of Darryl Dawkins and Moses Malone last fall, there has been a heightened awareness around the league and among retired players regarding their post-career health risks, particularly high blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity, diabetes, heart attacks and strokes.
"Showing up here today will save some guys' lives," Cage said.
For Cage, the death of Sean Rooks, who died July 7 because of a heart attack and was nearly a decade younger than Cage, hit home and shook him enough to be seen.
"That has certainly been on my mind," Cage said. "I've also looked at the long-term aspects of preventative health care. I like living well. When I played ball, I was known as the Iron man along with A.C. Green. I played in 736 consecutive games.
"I play basketball two or three times per week at 54. I've been blessed that I haven't had any surgeries or broken bones, but when you look internally into your body, that's a different story. That's what this is all about. It's to help guys like myself, who want to be told where our health stands and what we can do to improve the quality of our life."
According to several physicians on site, there is no concrete evidence that players are at risk after a certain age or at a certain height. Still, it's clear that there is some correlation between heart disease and high blood pressure among NBA players, especially African-American players.
"The African-American population is a little bit higher instance of undetected or higher blood pressure," said Michael Emery, assistant professor of clinical medicine at Indiana University. "With a higher prevalence of African-Americans playing basketball and in this cohort, that's something of definite consideration and concern for these athletes."
The fact that many of the former players who have died from heart-related diseases were close to 7 feet tall isn't lost on the players, which makes testing and collecting data on as many players as possible so vital.
"What's happened as we've seen a large number of our players have died at a young age, it's been from heart problems," said Keith Erickson, a 12-year NBA veteran who retired in 1977. "But we haven't put that together. We haven't really figured out that it's a problem for taller people. They're starting to study that now, and that's part of the reason why they're doing all this testing.
"They're going to be looking and seeing if they can help us be more aware of that, so that the really tall people make sure they get in here and get tested."
Cage, who claims his family is his primary motivation to live longer, has become something of an activist on the issue lately, urging his fellow retirees to be seen by a physician as soon as possible, even if they're reluctant.
"I want to encourage guys to go this," Cage said. "You don't have to sit at home and suffer. You don't have to feel like no one cares. You don't have to worry about health care. This is a pre-screening where you have real cardiologists, real doctors, real orthopedic surgeons. You can do blood work. Do it. It's free. You don't hear that often when you retire. It's free. That's one of my favorite words."
Date Posted: Wednesday, October 5th, 2016 , Total Page Views: 1471
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