Concerns about heart lead Hoiberg to retire

Updated: April 17, 2006, 7:37 PM ET
Associated Press

MINNEAPOLIS -- The fear of playing with a surgically repaired heart wouldn't let Fred Hoiberg return to the NBA.

 Fred Hoiberg
Hoiberg

His doctors weren't preventing him from playing. But the risk -- no matter how small -- was still there, and the gnawing doubt was enough for the 33-year-old to retire.

"It came to the point where one day I would say, 'All right, I'm doing it. I'm coming back,' " Hoigerg said. "The next day I'd be out running and feeling my heart was going to jump out of my chest and I would say, 'What am I thinking? I'm stupid for trying to do this.'

"So it kind of had become a daily battle for me. I wanted to think I could do it. The next day I didn't think I should be out there."

Hoiberg, who served as a special assistant for the Minnesota Timberwolves this season after having the operation last June, announced his retirement at a news conference Monday. He'll join the team's front office in a yet-to-be-determined capacity, but owner Glen Taylor vowed to give him an important job.

"I wanted to show that I could be the first guy to play with a pacemaker, because I felt that I could," said Hoiberg, who played four years each with the Indiana Pacers and Chicago Bulls before joining Minnesota for the last two. "I tried everything I possibly could to try to play."

Though nobody has played in the NBA with a pacemaker, Hoiberg said that his aortic root -- which was dangerously enlarged when he found out a year ago during a routine life-insurance exam that it needed to be fixed -- was the biggest concern.

"Even though the risk of something serious happening is very low, there is a risk," Hoiberg said.

His wife, Carol, and his four children -- ages 8 and younger -- ultimately meant too much.

"They are the most important thing in the world to me, and I can't even imagine how nervous they would be every time I stepped on the floor," he said. "Not only during games, but also every day in practice. I just can't put my family through that."

He already gave his wife a huge scare last summer, when he fainted face-first on a hardwood floor at their home the day after the pacemaker was installed.

"I still think about that incident almost every day, and I think about the look on her face when I came to after being unconscious for two minutes," Hoiberg said. "I think about when I finally did come back, being in her arms and her saying, 'Don't leave me.'

"I just can't imagine what that must have been like for her."

The Timberwolves used a one-time amnesty provision under the league's new collective bargaining agreement and waived Hoiberg last July -- saving them money and keeping Hoiberg from returning too quickly.

He was ineligible to play or practice with Minnesota this season, but he talked with the Detroit Pistons and Phoenix Suns about joining them for the stretch run. The medical staffs from those teams were wary of the risk, which left him with an uneasy feeling.

"I think that we all just admire Fred's decision," the Wolves' Mark Madsen said. "I don't think any of us could have asked for a better teammate or a better friend."

Hoiberg, who developed the nickname "The Mayor" during a standout career at Iowa State while playing in his hometown of Ames, carved a niche for himself as a valuable reserve who was reliable on defense and stellar behind the 3-point line.

He never averaged more than 9.0 points per game, but in his final season, 2004-05, he led the league in 3-point accuracy -- shooting a career-high 48.3 percent from behind the arc.


Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press