Column: Turiaf Honoring Hoiberg with the Number 32

by Kelly
Interactive Designer

Turiaf Honoring Hoiberg with the Number 32

I got a kick out of Fred Hoiberg’s response when he was part of a chain of text messages involving him and newly signed Wolves center Ronny Turiaf. When Turiaf confirmed he planned to honor his friend Hoiberg—with whom he shared a rigorous recovery from heart surgery in 2005—by wearing his No. 32 next season, Hoiberg shot back with a quick quip.

“I thought they retired my jersey,” Hoiberg joked.

These days “The Mayor” is about as beloved as it gets in Ames, where he’s led his alma mater Iowa State to back-to-back NCAA tournaments for the first time since 2001. He grew up there, became a Cyclones legend in college and is putting the program back on track with his well-respected approach to the game.

That approach made him a fan favorite in his two years spent with the Wolves from 2003-05, when he was part of that much-loved Western Conference Finals team then individually led the league in 3-point percentage a year later.

His playing career was cut short prematurely because of a health issue that eventually made him choose retirement over a lengthened career. He underwent heart surgery in June 2005 to repair an aortic aneurism, then received a pacemaker during that recovery due to ensuing health complications.

It turned out to be a turning point in his life, one that took him off the court and onto the sidelines. Turiaf, who has shown even in these short few weeks since he signed with the team how deep of a philosophical approach to life he possesses, said he could see back in 2005 that Hoiberg’s career path was about to change. Hoiberg was, after all, a 32-year-old, 10-year NBA veteran with a wife and four children. The two went through the same heart procedure about a month apart, and after Hoiberg reached out to Turiaf as a confidant the two became very tight over the ensuing months.

“Every situation is different, but I know when Fred went through it he didn’t see it as the end of his career,” Turiaf said. “He saw it as the start of a new career. He didn’t want to put his health in jeopardy for his family.”

Hoiberg, on the other hand, sat back and watched the younger Turiaf begin his NBA career post-surgery and thrive each season he took the court. He’s been to six postseasons in eight years, including an NBA title in 2011 with Miami. Each time he takes the court, he proves Hoiberg right in what he told the younger Turiaf when he was preparing for surgery. Hoiberg didn’t sugarcoat anything. He told Turiaf how hard the road to recovery would be. But he told Turiaf he would get through it.

Eight years later, Turiaf is still going strong and proving Hoiberg right. And his friend is certainly enjoying every minute of it.

“I live vicariously through him,” Hoiberg said. “Watching him succeed, it’s awesome.”

Meanwhile, Hoiberg is thriving in Ames. He holds a .613 winning percentage in three years with the Cyclones, and if he leads ISU to the tournament this winter it will be just the second time in school history the Cyclones have gone to three straight tournaments. They’ve never gone to four in a row.

He’s doing it with a steady dose of talented players who are getting looks from NBA teams, including Chris Babb and Will Clyburn this offseason and local product Royce White last year—who wound up being a mid-first round Draft pick.

Stories like this show how important support from others can forge long-lasting relationships in life. These two did not come from similar backgrounds or geographic locations. Turiaf is from the Caribbean and played for Gonzaga in college, while Hoiberg is a Midwest guy through and through. Hoiberg ended his career post-surgery, while Turiaf’s was just beginning. And in the eight years since, there hasn’t been a reason in either’s professional life to stay in contact.

But they have, and they’ll continue to do so because they share a pivotal moment that helped shape both their lives for the future. Hoiberg became a coach, Turiaf a dedicated player who works through his Heart To Heart Foundation to help kids facing similar health scares.

And now they just might have a couple more things in common. Aside from No. 32, Wolves fans will get to know Turiaf and his personality pretty quickly. Hoiberg described him as a person with infectious enthusiasm, and in just a couple interviews I’ve noticed that as well. It’s the type of personality that often wins over fan bases. If he does that here in Minnesota, he’ll be following in Hoiberg’s footsteps one more time.

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