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A Little Hope In A Big Blowout

It really got overlooked yesterday, with all the hoopla surrounding Pau Gasol's arrival and Kobe Bryant's complete domination of every player Washington Wizards Coach Eddie Jordan tossed at him, but there was hope on the floor for Wizards fans on Sunday afternoon. Where, you ask, in a game that was way more lopsided than a 103-91 score would suggest?

It was in the guy who got the starting job at center the past two games with Kwame Brown shipped to Memphis and Gasol unable to suit up. The energetic jitterbug, who was all over the place, cutting to the basket, contesting shots on the defensive end - he blocked one - and making shots on the other end - he was 5-for-11.

Ronny Turiaf had 13 points, five assists and three rebounds for the Lakers yestersday. But why should that give Wizards fans hope?


Nobody thought that I'd be doing this in the NBA, but I've got heart y'all. I am, the one called Laker Ronny. (Photo by Noah Graham/NBAE via Getty Images)

When you see Turiaf, think Etan Thomas. Less than three years ago, Turiaf was where Thomas is today, recovering from heart surgery and hoping to return to play the game he loves. Ronny (pronounced with the long "o" sound) had those same moments of doubt and trepidation.

A few weeks after the Lakers selected him in the second round of the 2005 NBA draft, Turiaf had a physical which uncovered a heart-related problem - he had an enlarged aortic root. The Lakers voided his contract, but still paid for him to have open-heart surgery, which was expected to keep him out the entire season. At the time, Phil Jackson didn't think there was any way possible that Turiaf would be in a Lakers uniform that season.

But five months later, Turiaf was on the floor, playing for the CBA's Yakima Sun Kings. A month after that, he signed a new contract with the Lakers and went on to play 23 games that season (although he spent most of that campaign looking like a member of hype team; like what would happen if M.L. Carr drank 50 Red Bulls before Celtics games back in the '80s, as he danced, gyrated and waved his towel).

Turiaf is having a solid season as a reserve for the Lakers this season, averaging 7.1 points and 3.6 rebounds, and he hasn't had any complications with his heart since he came back. He has also become good friends with Thomas in recent months, thanks in part to the friendship both Turiaf and Thomas share with Kwame Brown.

Turiaf said yesterday that when he heard about Thomas's heart troubles last October, he started thinking of a way to reach out to Thomas. "The very next day, Kwame said, 'My man E wants to talk to you,' " Turiaf said. "Kwame gave me his number. Ever since then, we've been talking twice, maybe three times a week."


The truth about Ronny; He's always on the phone, talking his homeboys, wishing they were feeling better. This is what a real Laker Ronny likes to do for you.(AP Photo/Haraz N. Ghanbari)

Thomas's surgery repaired a leaky aortic valve, which is a different heart procedure than Turiaf's. So it is unfair to expect the same results or as quick a turnaround from Thomas. No, Thomas is not Turiaf. And Turiaf is not Thomas. But there is proof that a player can come back from heart surgery and play the same season. It can be done.

Thomas, who had surgery on Oct. 11, said he hopes to return this season. No doubt, Turiaf's tale serves as an inspiration. He's among several players Thomas has spoken with who have had heart procedures. No matter how much he wants to be out there, Thomas will be cautious with his rehabilitation. Turiaf said that he didn't decide to return to basketball until doctors gave him full clearance.

"I had to be careful, to make sure I wasn't going to go back too soon," Turiaf said. "He should have that same attitude."

Turiaf said he has kept tabs on Thomas as he begins working out, with light running and shooting drills. "He is at the point where he is going to start feeling better every day," Turiaf said. "He's made a rapid recovery. I wish him the best and I hope he is back very soon."

What advice did he give Etah? "I kept it plain it simple," he said. "Stay ready because each day is going to be better than the other. It's a long process. You can't come back right away."

When/if Thomas is able to come back, there is no guarantee that he will be able to provide the same production for the Wizards as in the past, but no matter what, Thomas knows at least one place he can go for support.

"I'm trying to give him all the support that he needs," Turiaf said. "He knows he can count on me, because I know what he's been through. I'm definitely there for him, whatever he wants from me."

By Michael Lee  |  February 4, 2008; 7:31 AM ET
 
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Comments

Eat this, Bill Simmons. The only thing sweeter will be watching the Celtics fall in the first or second round of the playoffs.

Posted by: mark | February 4, 2008 8:45 AM | Report abuse

Nice story, Lee. I hope Etan is able to come back and be the player he was before the surgery. Thre's always a place on the team for a big guy with no fear.

Posted by: mark | February 4, 2008 9:28 AM | Report abuse

Um, why did you write this, Michael? Is it because you were jealous of the Open Letter From Etan Thomas that Ivan received, and wanted one of your own? Etan puts a hit job on anyone who compares his health to someone else's (even though he speaks to that same person to get tips on his health).

Posted by: Sean | February 4, 2008 9:49 AM | Report abuse

Nice post Etan and Ronny aside from the health issue they sure do play similar type of game.

On a side note, has anyone noticed that Blatche's play when starting compared to being a bench player seems like day and night. Why not start AB and AJ be the first one of the bench either to relieve AB or CB and the bench needs help on points.

Posted by: Dave, | February 4, 2008 9:58 AM | Report abuse

to me the wizards should just let etan thomas go to free agency and pickup a decent power foward who is solid all around like a guy like reuben patterson....

Posted by: paul | February 4, 2008 11:15 AM | Report abuse

I was wondering when we would start seeing the "Kobe Lovin" from Mike. ;)

What I would like to know is where are all of the people saying "We don't need Gilbert!" at now?

Clearly the Wiz do and this game showed as much. People are realizing if they "D" down Stevenson the Wiz are very beatable.

- Ray

Posted by: rmcazz | February 4, 2008 11:24 AM | Report abuse


Thanks Mike Lee...Ya gotta love Kobe!!! A fantabulous!!!! all around player if ever there was one.

I love Kobe!!!!!!and don't care who knows..
Even if they don't win a championship...
And just imagine...he's playing on a
"very depleted" team!! NOBODY has whined or made excuses......

They handle their business

Message to Wiz fans? quite whining & making excuses...get over it.

Posted by: Jordan | February 4, 2008 11:36 AM | Report abuse

Please stop writing stories about me. Haven't I told you that I am my own person. If Ronny Turiaf came back and is doing well, that doesn't mean I will come back and do well. I might come back and suck and continue to steal money from the Wizards. That is my right as an individual, because I am my own person. If you keep writing stories about me, I might write a poem about you.

Posted by: Etan Thomas | February 4, 2008 3:23 PM | Report abuse

Anyone still think the Wiz are better without Gilbert?

Posted by: Bridgewater, VA | February 4, 2008 5:07 PM | Report abuse

"Anyone still think the Wiz are better without Gilbert?

Posted by: Bridgewater, VA | February 4, 2008 05:07 PM "

This is such an idiotic post. Of course Les BouleS are better if their 12 mil dollar player is actually on the court trying to earn his pay. Take any 12 million dollar player off his team and you will see the loss, although, Les BouleS have been marching on undermanned without him up until now.

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