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LaMarcus Aldridge was forced to suddenly retire this past NBA season due to a heart condition, and in the first lengthy interview he’s done since walking away from the game, the seven-time All-Star discussed how tough it was to leave the Brooklyn Nets before a potential Finals run.
Speaking to The Athletic’s Shams Charania, Aldridge detailed the decision-making process behind his retirement:
“I’ve been depressed, and I’m trying to figure out how to navigate through not competing on the floor, learning not to be depressed…I still love basketball. I still feel like I have a lot to give. But even now, I’m still trying to find myself. When you go from doing something you love for so long and you lose it overnight, it’s a shock.
As a rookie in 2006 with the Portland Trail Blazers, Aldridge learned he had Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome, which can cause episodes of having rapid a heartbeat.
Through 15 years as a pro athlete, it was always a condition Aldridge was able to manage. Unfortunately, he had an untimely scare this season in Brooklyn on April 10 in a game against the Los Angeles Lakers.
“I was just off and couldn’t get no energy. I just couldn’t get myself going. I couldn’t figure out what was going on. And later that night, I honestly had a scary night. […] knowing I have kids, my mom, a lot of people depending on me and a lot of people that I want to see going forward — I just felt like I was blessed by God to play 15 years with this condition, and I didn’t want to push it anymore.”
LaMarcus Aldridge: Leaving Nets before Finals run was ‘the hardest part’
Aldridge explained how he felt like he was the paint defender and rebounding force the Nets needed. Once his buyout with the San Antonio Spurs was complete, Brooklyn was the destination he focused on for those reasons.
While the basketball fit was undeniably there, Aldridge’s body just wouldn’t cooperate. He said he wanted to “add to my legacy” by making his maiden Finals appearance — and strongly believed that with him, James Harden, Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving all on the same team, they could’ve made two or three more trips to the NBA’s grand postseason finale.
“That was the hardest part…it was a chance for me to make that next step, a chance for me to add to my legacy and see what it feels like,” Aldridge said.
Off of five full seasons in San Antonio in which the Spurs were never really a threat for the Larry O’Brien Trophy, the Nets presented a golden opportunity for Aldridge to reach the pinnacle of pro basketball. They had the star power to not only propel Aldridge to the Finals, but to win the whole thing. They still might make it without him.
Although he didn’t say as much in the lengthy interview, that must be the new hardest part for Aldridge. Watching Brooklyn march through the postseason without him, knowing he could’ve been a key contributor.
LaMarcus Aldridge felt underappreciated in Portland, relationship with Damian Lillard could’ve been better
Aldridge also discussed how he, Greg Oden and Brandon Roy had a good enough core with the Trail Blazers to be a championship-caliber squad. Once again, though, it wasn’t meant to be. Oden and Roy saw their careers cut short by injuries, and in fact, Portland famously passed on Durant in favor of Oden with the No. 1 overall pick.
One interesting element to all that, though, was how Aldridge discussed the Blazers’ desire to rally behind Roy and Oden when they entered the fold. Aldridge felt like he was put “on the back burner,” said the franchise wanted to trade him during that time, and didn’t exactly start his NBA career off in the best way. He was considered a “project” despite being selected second overall in the draft.
In any event, even when the era of Roy and Oden passed, Aldridge was still there for the start of Damian Lillard’s career, which initiated a bit of a power struggle as a new face of the Blazers franchise emerged.
“I wish I would have worked at it better to have a relationship with Dame (Lillard),” Aldridge said. “I feel like we both had our circles talking to us. Maybe that helped stifle our relationship, but we definitely have gotten a better relationship since then.”
Lillard is still fighting to deliver a championship in Portland, as the Western Conference has proven to be a gauntlet the Blazers can’t quite get through, largely because of lackluster defense. Someone like Aldridge could help in that department.
LaMarcus Aldridge deserves more credit, could’ve made Nets certain Finals favorites
The stars just didn’t quite align for Aldridge with his first team, and although he did appear in the Conference Finals with the Spurs once, that was toward the end of the Tim Duncan-Manu Ginobili-Tony Parker era when the team just wasn’t quite as good.
It seemed like everything was working out for Aldridge for the first time when San Antonio let him loose, but after only five games with the Nets, suddenly it was time for the 35-year-old’s career to be over.
Aldridge only played in five games for Brooklyn, yet made his impact felt. Even in his last NBA appearance, the veteran flashed dominant form versus the Lakers. In 23 minutes, he put up 12 points, three rebounds, two assists and three blocked shots. Not bad for a man who felt like his heart was going to give out.
This whole situation goes to show that pro athletes deal with adversity that, until very recently, would likely never have been discussed. Speaking out about a vulnerable heart condition and depression is a commendable move on Aldridge’s part, even if there feels like a little unfinished business on the hardwood.
The best thing the Nets can do to honor Aldridge is win a championship. However, it’s hard not to think how much better off they’d be with him.
Aldridge is indeed a capable rebounder and interior defender Brooklyn will need as it approaches a likely second-round matchup with Milwaukee. The Bucks’ size, defensive prowess and the unique skill set of superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo is going to pose all sorts of problems for the Nets.
Not only could Aldridge help slow down Milwaukee’s frontcourt, but his ability to space the floor with mid-range shooting and 3-point stroke, not to mention advanced arsenal of post moves and crafty finishing at the rim, briefly gave Brooklyn an offensive dimension it notably lacks right now.
Durant, Irving and Harden may be too much for any postseason foe to handle. That said, if the Nets fall short, we may be looking at Aldridge as the X-factor who could’ve ensured a championship banner for them.