Jack Haley with the New Jersey Nets
It seemed like about as random a run-in as someone could have. I was in Las Vegas on business and I'm not sure why Jack Haley was there, but we both ended up in The Peppermill restaurant on the Vegas Strip. It's not much of a surprise that I was there, as that is my regular spot in Vegas- so much so, that some of the people there think I'm a local. For Jack, I'm guessing he was probably in town for a wedding or a quick vacation. He probably told me, but I don't remember.
What I do remember is that Jack looked great. He looked fit, he looked happy and during our conversation, it sounded like everything was going well for him. That was just a few months ago. Fast forward to this evening and I noticed a tweet from Detlef Schrempf in my feed, mentioning Jack's passing. It seems like just the other day I was blogging about the passing of Jerome Kersey and now I find myself asking the same questions- How could it happen? Why Jack? Why now?
Jack's passing was the latest in too long of a line of basketball people that I've watched leave far too soon. It started with Derek Smith after my second year in the league. That was followed by Yinka Dare and then Bob McCann. While most of these guys were either my coaches or teammates, they all had heart-related issues. There were others along the way, like Dwayne Schintzius, who died almost three years ago today (March 15th) and more recently, Anthony Mason, but they were different. Dwayne battled Leukemia and I saw Anthony during the years his son played for St. John's. He looked like he'd put on some weight and by several accounts, led a lifestyle that did not sound like he had any aspirations to fill the void left behind by Jack LaLanne.
It is the passings of Derek, Yinka, Bob and now Jack that cause me to take a hard look at my own health. I know people die young all over the world for a multitude of reasons, but I guess I don't expect it to happen so often among guys who were some of the world's elite athletes. I've put on some weight since retiring, but 20 pounds is easy to hide on a seven-foot frame. The greater concern for me is my heart. While I had what I would consider an "active" lifestyle for most of my life, in recent years, I've become more sedentary. That, combined with some advice from my doctor several years ago, has heightened my awareness for my physical well-being.
I was actually working out with Marquette, when I went in for a physical and was told my cholesterol level was higher than my doctor would've liked. She encouraged me to exercise more and I thought to myself, "How much more can I exercise, than chasing around a bunch of college kids?!?" I decided to start doing Sprint-distance triathlons and did those for a few years, before other pursuits got in the way. I figured triathlons would be relatively-low impact, if I focused more on the biking and swimming and just slogged my way through an occasional run.
I probably ended up focusing too much on the biking end of things, accumulating well over 1,500 miles in a single year and developing a hemorrhoid issue that ended up requiring surgery. I haven't spent nearly as much time on the bike since. That result is similar to the challenge many former professional athletes face upon retirement- have you done so much damage to your body during your playing career, that you're now physically unable to maintain a moderate level of physical fitness in retirement?
With Jack's passing, it got me thinking about the first time the retired NBA players held their annual summer meeting in conjunction with the current NBA players. It was an eye-opening experience for me and one that I felt gave me an opportunity to look into my own future as a retired player, at least from a physical standpoint. There were guys at that meeting in their 50s (and maybe even 40s), who were hobbling around like they were in their 70s or 80s. I didn't want that for myself and decided I wouldn't continue playing until my body would no longer allow it. I know I'm not alone in that regard and when I see guys like Chris Borland walk away from professional sports, I'm only surprised that it doesn't more often.
Adding Jack's passing to the growing list has made me re-evaluate how I've dealt with moderately-high cholesterol in much the same way I did when I first met the retired NBA players. Up until now, I've preferred to make dietary adjustments, pop red yeast rice tablets and try to exercise more. The first two efforts have gone well and made a significant difference, but I never seem to find enough time to exercise consistently. I'll be making a renewed commitment to exercise more, but perhaps more importantly, I'll be calling my doctor tomorrow for the Lipitor perscription she'd previously-suggested.
Jack was about 17 years removed from his playing career and seemed full of life when I last saw him. He seemed like he had a lot going on and a lot to live for and it's a shame to lose such a good person so early. I'm 14 years removed from my last NBA season and the thought of only having three more years on this earth is not appealing in the least. I have what seems like a gaggle of kids and I want to see them all get married and have kids of their own, which should take several more decades, so tomorrow I make the call. Somehow I found enough time to hop on the stairmaster tonight and the next time I visit The Peppermill, I'll be thinking of Jack when I order a salad.