Turiaf Honors Special Bond With Hoiberg By Wearing No. 32 Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Ronny Turiaf played for six teams in his first eight NBA seasons. In five of those stops he wore No. 21, and during his brief stint with the Knicks in 2011 he took the No. 14.
This time around, after Turiaf signed as a free agent this offseason with the Timberwolves, the selection process was different. In a way, Turiaf is coming full circle in his career in honoring a former Wolves player who helped him through the most difficult challenge he’s faced in his life.
Turiaf plans to wear No. 32 in honor of Fred Hoiberg, with whom he shares a special bond that will forever link them. In the summer of 2005, both Turiaf and Hoiberg went through a similar health scare about four weeks apart, each undergoing heart surgery to repair an aortic aneurism. Eight years later, Turiaf will wear a number that represents the bond the two share while playing for the same organization Hoiberg did in the season leading up to that trying summer.
Eight years later, the connection between the two still holds strong.
“I was honored,” Hoiberg said. “I told my wife, she was next to me, and she thought it was one of the coolest things she’d ever heard. It’s great to see him out there. I’m honored he’ll wear that number.”
Their friendship started with a phone call. After Hoiberg underwent surgery in June 2005, he was watching television during his recovery period and saw Turiaf was preparing for the same type of procedure he just went through.
Hoiberg said he reached out to his agent, asking if he could help Turiaf out in any way during the process and talk him through any of the emotions or trials that are on the way. Hoiberg himself had reached out to people who underwent the surgery before him, including a neighbor of his, and felt like he could help Turiaf through a difficult time.
“I know how difficult and how shocking it was when you find out about the condition,” Hoiberg said. “How tough it is to deal with that. I just saw how scared he was, and I went through the same emotions.”
Turiaf said Hoiberg, who underwent the surgery at 32 and as a 10-year NBA veteran, almost became a father figure to him during the process—ultimately becoming a go-to person during an extremely difficult time.
“He told me what would happen right ahead of me,” Turiaf said. “Anytime I had a question, he was there for moral support.”
It was a long road back.
Post surgery, there are good days and there are bad days. The four- to six-hour procedure removes the balloon-like swelling at the spot of the aneurism in the aorta, and there is a painful road to recovery. The first six weeks involves very little activity—eventually working your way up to walking up or down the block to get exercise. Along the way, Hoiberg said he lost about 25 pounds and said he knows Turiaf did as well.
“It’s one of those things where, when you have somebody you can talk to, it certainly helps,” Hoiberg said.
It’s a process that requires patience and resolve, and each felt comfort knowing he had a friend going through the same challenges. For Turiaf, Hoiberg provided guidance on what to expect and the firm belief he could overcome this health scare to enjoy a long career in the NBA. For Hoiberg, Turiaf’s youthful approach—he was 25 and had just been drafted that summer by the Lakers—helped push him in the recovery process.
Hoiberg said despite having surgery four weeks before Turiaf, it was Turiaf who got back on the floor first. He remembers seeing a video of Turiaf running before him.
“That gave me motivation,” Hoiberg said.
That summer, two athletes came together to help one another fully recover. It ended up being a new beginning for both.
Turiaf played his first NBA game on Feb. 8, 2006—198 days after undergoing heart surgery. He played one minute in an 89-78 Lakers win over the Rockets, and he went on to play in 23 games during his first season. Over the next eight years, Turiaf developed into the type of role player Hoiberg said every team needs in order to be successful. He brings a positive attitude and meets any role the team needs with a smile. Regardless how big or how small his role has been over the past eight years, Turiaf’s journey has been successful. He’s been to six playoffs and won a championship with the 2011 Heat.
His health scare gave him a new perspective on life off the court and what he could accomplish.
“For me growing up in the Caribbean on the island surrounded by water, you learn to appreciate life,” Turiaf said. “When I look at my heart surgery, it gave me a platform necessary to save people’s lives. I want the Ronny Turiaf legacy to help others. That’s why I have the [Ronny Turiaf Heart To] Heart Foundation, why I work in the Caribbean for kids with heart problems.”
Hoiberg took a different path. Post-surgery complications led to him receiving a pacemaker. It was at that point he decided his playing career was over. He joined the Wolves staff and spent time in the team’s front office before accepting a job in 2010 to become Iowa State’s men’s basketball coach—taking over the program he played for in college and became one of the most celebrated and beloved athletes in Cyclones hoops history.
Both have reached out to other NBA players who have gone through similar health scares, including the Jeff Green and Etan Thomas. It’s a fraternity, Hoiberg said, in which you can always talk and ask for advice.
Hoiberg still has strong ties to people within the Wolves organization, and with his former coach Flip Saunders rejoining the organization as Minnesota’s President of Basketball Operations, he has several reasons to stop by Target Center and reconnect with old friends, peers and co-workers. With Turiaf on board, it’s just another familiar face that Hoiberg will enjoy visiting.
“I texted him yesterday and told him I’d love to take him out to lunch and really talk about what’s going on in our lives,” Hoiberg said. “We still get checked every six months.”
And this time, they’ll have one more thing in common—the No. 32.
Eight years later, the two continue to carry connection that continues to grow.
“He helped me through the worst time in my life, and it all worked out,” Turiaf said. “Hopefully it comes full circle.”