Matt Bullard, Rockets look out for retired players health

Former Houston Rockets player Matt Bullard was one of about 30 retired NBA players to recently take advantage of a free doctor's exam at Houston's Memorial Hermann hospital. Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images

HOUSTON -- Prior to a recent game, Houston Rockets broadcaster and former NBA player Matt Bullard is sitting courtside showing a reporter what he does with his fingers that might save his life one day.

Bullard places his index fingers on a silver device, about the size of a basketball card. With Bullard's iPhone nearby, the two devices sync up to determine his heart rate.

Why is this so important?

Bullard's grandfather died of a heart attack, his father survived one and the former 6-10 big man is going through preventative measures.

Earlier this month the players union and NBA in a partnership with the retired players union and the Rockets invited retired Rockets and any retired NBA player living in the area to visit the Toyota Center to get checked out by the doctors from Memorial Hermann hospital. Doctors examined close to 30 retired players for mainly cardiovascular problems. In the future, doctors plan to check for cancer, heart problems, high cholesterol and other potential problems.

After Bullard was examined he was given the silver device called an ECG check, which measures his heart rate in about 30 seconds.

"I definitely have to stay on top of that and make sure I get checked out," he said. "And the fact the retired players union is getting this together, paying for it and making it easy. That's the biggest hurdle is how difficult it is to fight with your insurance company and go make an apportionment. Who do you go see? The fact that they streamlined the process and made it easy and did all kinds of high tech tests, a little ECG machine hooks up to my iPhone."

The NBA was left stunned by the recent deaths of some former big men. Darryl Dawkins died in August and then Moses Malone in September.

Malone was in Virginia for a charity golf tournament when he died in his hotel room. It prompted the Rockets to do something.

"Certainly when Moses passed away Leslie and I had a conversation immediately about just how tragic and how fleeting everything is, and we wanted to make sure we were doing what we could to help," said Rockets CEO Tad Brown of the conversation of he had with Rockets owner Leslie Alexander. "I think the great thing about the partners we had, Leslie recognized immediately is there something we can do, we feel an obligation to help and do what we can and we have great partners in Memorial."

Malone's death at 60 was caused by cardiovascular disease, the Virginia medical examiner said. Bullard, 48, is mindful of what could happen given his family history.

So if you see Bullard reading game notes preparing for a game, just also understand he might be checking something else other than stats and trends for that night's game.

"For most of us, it's on the front of our minds now with some of our colleagues who passed away in the year or two," Bullard said. "Joe (Rogowski, players' union director of sports medicine and research) said it's not only important that they want all the data from all the retired players but is there an increased risk for big guys like us to have heart problems as we get older and all that kind of stuff."

Bullard and the Rockets hope not.

One thing everyone involved is sure of is they want a fighting chance to keep living a long, joyful life.

"The only way that you really get surprised is if you don't find the information," Brown said. "We're going to make this an annual thing, provided the league and the union want to continue to do these things, which we believe they want to do. We like to make this an annual event where if we can work with our partners to provide resources for these guys to come in and get checked out because at the very least, let's make sure we find the information that's available to us and that's the most important thing."