Getting drafted as a college or high school athlete (depending on the sport you play) is the final step for many young players to become professional athletes. Getting your name called is a summation of all the hard work you have put in to make it to the big leagues. In a way, it’s also just the start of bigger and better things.
Ronny Turiaf was probably experiencing similar emotions when the Los Angeles Lakers called his name as the 37th overall pick of the 2005 NBA Draft. The only problem was that once Turiaf took his physical with the Lakers, it was revealed his heart had an enlarged aortic root, which required open-heart surgery. What would have been a dream come true for many turned into a nightmare for Turiaf.
For a point in time, it seemed like Ronny Turiaf’s NBA career was over before it could begin
Turiaf needed open-heart surgery, and the Lakers were forced to void Turiaf’s contract. They held onto his rights in case he could return, though, and the team covered all the costs of Turiaf’s surgery. Even then, doctors told Turiaf that basketball should be the least of his worries and that there was a chance he would never play basketball again.
But that wasn’t an option for Turiaf. He had worked so hard to get to this spot, and he wasn’t going to let it come crashing down in the blink of an eye. Instead, he was focused on basketball the entire way and knew that if he made it through the surgery, he would find his way back on the court.
“I will not let my family down. I’m gonna get through it. I’ll be back on this court. They are gonna have to f***ing kill me.”
Ronny Turiaf, Basketball Mecca.
Turiaf’s words ended up to be spot on. He made it through a six-hour open-heart surgery and was given a six to twelve-month recovery period. But Turiaf recovered sooner than expected, and the Lakers re-signed him on January 17th, 2006, less than six months after his surgery.
Ronny Turiaf ended up putting together a solid career after his career-threatening surgery
Turiaf would go on to play in 23 games for the Lakers during his rookie season, which was more than anybody could have reasonably expected him to play that season. His contributions were understandably limited, but just being on the court was a victory for Turiaf.
Turiaf would eventually turn himself into a solid bench player in a career spanning ten seasons. After spending his first three seasons with the Lakers, Turiaf would bounce around the league, playing for six more teams throughout his career. He was a part of the Miami Heat’s 2012 championship squad, and even though he didn’t play every game, his ring still is worth as much as everyone else’s.
Turiaf was never the best player on the court, but you can’t say anyone else on the court played with more heart than him. His story of triumph over a situation not many others would have been able to overcome is inspiring and should serve as a reminder that no matter how dark your situation may seem, there’s always a light at the end of the tunnel.