It was April 10, 2021, and LaMarcus Aldridge was playing his fifth game for the Nets against the Lakers since signing with them as a free agent after obtaining a buyout from the Spurs. Throughout the course of his 15-year NBA career, Aldridge had learned how to manage a heart arrhythmia condition. But on this night, the steps that normally worked to control his heart function failed Aldridge.
"When you have something traumatic happen to you, you really can’t focus on basketball at that moment," Aldridge said during an interview Monday on Nets Media Day. "You really have to focus on your health. That night, it was a very scary moment in the game.
"Everything that happened in that game was the opposite of what we had found out, so that was the most alarming thing. We did all this research, and it was all wrong."
After feeling so frightened by his experience that night when he scored 12 points against the Lakers while playing just over 22 minutes, Aldridge suddenly decided to retire. He had played just five games with the Nets, starting them all and averaging 12.8 points and 4.8 rebounds. Those were modest numbers for the seven-time All-Star, who had career averages of 19.4 points and 8.4 rebounds per game, but there was no doubt in that short time that he improved the Nets’ frontcourt presence.
Explaining his decision, Aldridge said, "My whole thing is I’m not selfish. I could have took the time and tried to go home and wait it out, but I felt like I was kind of keeping the guys here in suspense, dangling over their head — Is he coming back or is he not? So I just felt like that was the cleanest thing I could do for myself mentally and for the guys here was to walk away. They knew I was done."
Eventually Aldridge determined he had the capability to return to basketball for his 16th season at the age of 36. When Aldridge told Nets general manager Sean Marks he wanted to come back, Marks said he actually tried to talk Aldridge out of returning. He asked Aldridge why he would want to return after accomplishing so much. In the end, Marks said he was impressed by the conviction Aldridge showed to return to join the superstar trio of Kevin Durant, James Harden and Kyrie Irving.
"I wasn’t ready to stop for one, and two, I was helping," Aldridge said. "I was helping the best team in the NBA win games, and I was fitting in well and I was having fun and I was enjoying basketball. I still love the game. I’m still capable of helping this team win. I still can bring something to the table. So that’s why."
Aldridge admitted his return feels a little weird. "I feel like I took a five-month All-Star break, and now I’m back," Aldridge said. "But nerves? Nah. I’ve been put through so many tests on the court, on the treadmill, that I won’t have any nerves. This is what I do. I play basketball, and I’ve been doing it all my life."