‘Mayor’ a real family man

Tommy Birch

Basketball may be the love of his life, but the most important thing to Fred Hoiberg is his family. Hoiberg, who ranks third in all-time scoring at Iowa State, gave up the game he played for nearly his entire life in 2006, overcoming the setback of having a pacemaker installed in 2005.

“I felt like I was ready to make a contribution to an NBA roster again, but there were some doubts,” said Hoiberg about his health. “For me, if there was any risk at all, that was enough. I wasn’t going to risk it for my family”

For Hoiberg, a return to the basketball court meant plenty of risks. After 10 seasons in the NBA, with stops in Indiana, Chicago and, finally, Minnesota, the former Cyclone went in for a routine physical, which was required in order for him to take out a new life insurance policy. What doctors found was an enlarged aortic root.

“Had I not gone in for the life insurance test that I went in for in 2005, I probably would not be here today,” he said. “I was one significant blow away from having my aorta rupture.”

For Hoiberg, the news was as surprising as it was rude.

“I had no symptoms,” he said. “I was in great shape and I was in the prime of my NBA career.”

Even coaches were surprised at the outcome of the physical.

“I just couldn’t believe it,” said Hoiberg’s former ISU coach Johnny Orr. “You never know how things are going to go.”

After having open heart surgery and eventually adding the pacemaker, Hoiberg spent time working out, trying to find a way back into the NBA. He said he got into such good shape that talks were in place with the San Antonio Spurs, Detroit Pistons and Phoenix Suns about a possible comeback. In the end, Hoiberg decided a return to the court was too risky – not just for him, but for his wife Carol and their four children.

“It was a very tough decision,” Hoiberg said. “I had some great offers.”

The most promising offer came from his family, where Hoiberg could do many things off the court he wasn’t able to do during his playing days.

“I went through a lot with that,” he said about his health. “It’s just little things, like reading to my kids at night, that are so much more important – and walking my kids to the bus in the morning. Other things just aren’t so important.”

Now an assistant general manger for the Minnesota Timberwolves, Hoiberg is informing people about some of the more important things in life, including the dangers of heart disease. Encouraging people to get checked out, Hoiberg still visits the doctor every six months for a checkup and expects another surgery in about five years.

“It’s something that, as a public figure, I feel responsible to get the word out and to get checked,” he said.

While he has his eyes on earning the championship ring he never got as a player, but now as a member of the front office, Hoiberg has bigger goals again off the court.

“My family is the most important thing in the world to me,” he said. “I want to walk my daughter down the aisle someday, and I want to be able to coach my kids growing up.”