NBA Players Who Had Successful Careers with Heart Problems

Key Takeaway: The heart is a vital organ for athletes, and heart problems have affected several NBA players, such as Jared Butler, Larry Bird, Jerry West, Jason Collier, and Cuttino Mobley. The NBA is taking steps to address these issues and prevent tragic outcomes for athletes in the future.


There are obviously many important organs in the human body, the lungs, the brain, maybe even the kidneys. There are no other organs that are quite as personified or glorified as the heart. Terms and sayings like, they play with heart, or they have heart, are constantly streaming across the waves of sports commentators on a daily basis.

The heart might be the most important organ in an athlete, both in metaphor and in actual biological need. Heart problems have started cropping up in professional sports as of late, taking many athletes too early.

There have been a good group of players in NBA history who have played through such ailments, here is a few of the players who have overcome this adversity.

5 Famous NBA Players With Heart Problems

Jared Butler – Utah Jazz

Jared Butler has been one of the more recent NBA players to come out to the world that he is suffering from heart problems. Athletes routinely go through physicals, as you can imagine, they are a teams best way of making money.

During a routine exam, it was discovered that he had hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, or HCM. Basically, HCM is a thickening of the heart muscle that can come from many factors, and I am not a doctor by any means.

Butler was drafted 40th overall in the 2021 NBA Draft after three outstanding years at Baylor University. In 2021, he not only won the NCAA championship but was named the NCAA Final Four Most Outstanding Player, quit the draft year. He is still very young in his career, and surely getting that health news was quite a shock. In an unrelated note, he was recently waived by the Jazz.

Larry Bird – Boston Celtics (Player), Indiana Pacers (Coach)

There are so many great players that have played in the NBA, and Larry Bird is the elite of the elite. Bird played college basketball for Indiana State, where he is from, before being drafted into the NBA by the Celtics 6th overall in 1978. Bird went on to play 13 seasons for the Celtics, winning three NBA Championships and a bevy of other personal awards.

After basketball, he was a special assistant for the Celtics, then moved on to coach the Pacers.

When he retired in 1992, Bird discovered that he had atrial fibrillation, basically having an irregular or rapid heartbeat. Larry Bird also has an enlarged heart, a condition that isn’t uncommon of men his size.

It is believed that he played with this condition for a few years. He got it under control a few years after retirement and has been fine by all accounts.

Jerry West – Los Angeles Lakers

Jerry West was born in East Bank, West Virginia. After completing high school, he began his college career playing for the University of West Virginia. He was drafted 2nd overall in the 1960 NBA Draft by the Minneapolis Lakers. This was right before the team relocated to sunny California.

West had an incredible NBA career, winning the Championship in 1972 and being selected for 14 All-Star games. Outside of the NBA, he won Gold twice representing Team USA, once at the Pan Am Games and the other at the Olympics.

West has really shined as an executive. From 1979-2000, he was an executive in multiple roles for the Lakers, the team he played with for many years. He also spent time with the Grizzlies, Warriors and currently is with the Clippers. During that span, he has won eight NBA Championships.

During his playing career, he sadly suffered from atrial fibrillation. He would battle through sleepless nights, anxiety, and fits of extreme panting, not knowing why.

It was originally believed that these things came from just being a professional athlete, it was until years later when he noticed his heartbeat was just out of control.

Jason Collier – Houston Rockets and Atlanta Hawks

Sadly, Jason Collier is a player who tragically lost his life playing with heart problems.

Collier played college basketball for four season, two with Indiana and two with Georgia Tech. He was drafted in the 2000 NBA Draft by the Milwaukee Bucks but was shortly traded to the Houston Rockets. He only played five professional seasons. In October 2005, Collier died suddenly at just 28 years old.

In an autopsy done later, it was discovered he had an enlarged heart and died from sudden heart rhythm disturbance. His heart was too large, even for a man his size. After his passing, the NBA made certain changes to their players health exams.

Cuttino Mobley – Houston Rockets, Orlando Magic, Sacramento Kings, Los Angeles Clippers 

Cuttino Mobley was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1975. After completing high school, he spent four years playing college for the University of Rhode Island, graduating with a degree in communication studies. He was then drafted in 1998 by the Houston Rockets, 41st overall. He played in the NBA for about eight seasons.

In 2008, Mobley discovered he was suffering from hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, this is when the heart becomes thickened, sometimes with no reason at all. This makes your heart less capable of pumping blood, something pretty needed when playing professional sports.

Mobley was going to be traded to the Knicks, and a medical exam stopped the trade and may have saved his life.

He took extreme caution with this news, as he probably had been suffering from it for a few years and some previously retired players passed away from the same condition.

Since then, Mobley has returned to basketball in a small capacity playing in the Big3 3-on-3 basketball league that was started in 2017, along with some other retired NBA players.


Sadly, in the last decade or so there have been an increase in not only basketball players, but other sports athletes coming forward and passing away from heart conditions. Players like Butler and Bird have learned to live with their conditions, but some players aren’t as lucky.

The NBA has noticed this rise in cases and has been making efforts to tackle the problem, that way there aren’t as many tragic stories after players retire.

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