Determination defeats pain in Bogut's 15-year basketball career

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The Best of Andrew Bogut (1:35)

Looking back at some of the best plays from Andrew Bogut's NBA career. (1:35)

Retirement had been on Andrew Bogut's mind for far longer than we all knew.

The seed of whether he should continue playing professional basketball had lingered for nearly a decade before, on Tuesday [AEDT], the Australian centre made it official: he was retiring from the sport, seven months out from an Olympics he was desperate to play in.

That desire -- the one to help bring the Australian Boomers their first medal at a major international tournament -- nearly kept Bogut's career alive. Mid-way through the offseason, the 36-year-old's mind was set, but the appointment of Brian Goorjian as the new head coach of the national team made him second-guess his decision.

"I was like, f---, now I'm back on the fence because I want to play for Goorj," Bogut told ESPN. "But, the more I thought about it, I guess what I was putting in was far outweighing what I was getting at this point in my career, and it's why I made the decision."

But the struggle wasn't new. Bogut's 14-year NBA career was riddled with injuries - mostly freak, non-contact ones - and one in particular nearly saw him call time on his career before the age of 30. In 2012, Bogut suffered an ankle injury that was worse than feared, requiring microfracture surgery his surgeon told him could be "career-ending".

It wasn't just the injury, though. That was coupled with being traded to the Golden State Warriors, in a situation that took some time to settle.

"I was real close to retiring then, man," Bogut said of his 2012 injury.

"I broke my ankle in January, get traded to Golden State -- which was great, because it was a blessing in disguise, because I wouldn't have gotten traded if I was healthy -- I missed the Olympics that year, had all the pressure of Golden State trading a fan-favourite in Monté (Ellis), and getting me in.

"All of a sudden I'm not playing, so fans are like 'what the hell is going on?' I was trying to rush back, but the ankle just wasn't right. No matter what I did, rehab wise, it would just blow up. It got to a point where I was really frustrated, and, by mid-season, got re-shut down, and then made the playoffs, had all the injections to get through that, played okay, signed an extension, and then it went to the back of my mind. But, mid that season, I was in all sorts."

Bogut needed the next offseason to get that ankle right, and it would set the stage for the big man emerging as an integral part of the Warriors' dynasty.

Things were going relatively well, Bogut says, until his leg break just minutes into his stint with the Cleveland Cavaliers. That was followed by a nagging back injury during his time with the Los Angeles Lakers in 2018.

At that point, the goal for Bogut became clear: get to the Tokyo Olympics in 2020 unscathed.

"Those two seasons are what pushed toward the Sydney Kings and the NBL; less games, putting all my eggs in the basket to get to Tokyo," Bogut said. "That was the best route."

At first, the plan seemed to be working. Bogut played in every game for the Sydney Kings over the 2018-19 NBL season, and he even got through the back-end of an NBA campaign with the Warriors and felt optimistic about how his body was responding.

Bogut went on to compete in the 2019 FIBA World Cup, but it was after that tournament when he began to see some red flags. He says he was "really sore and hurting" following the World Cup in China, which led into what would end up being his final NBL season; one he had to labour through.

"That last NBL season for me was horrid, as far as trying to be healthy," Bogut said.

"I was getting in the gym two hours before everyone else, doing tons of physio, getting off a flight, and it was just frustrating. It took a toll on me, more mentally than physically. It would make you crankier some days, and it was hard being around family. They all take the brunt of it and, like I said, going to the park with my kids... because I was so cognizant of getting rest and my back being locked up, I couldn't even push my kid on the swing properly. That's when I was like, f---, is this worth it at this point in my career?

"Got to the end of that [NBL] season and it was in the back of my mind, and once the Olympics had been cancelled, [thoughts of retirement] became even more rampant. I was going to play the Olympics if it was 2020, but once that decision was made, it was like, f---, I don't think I'm going to make it to 2021."

The decision was made. Bogut confided in his former Warriors coach, Steve Kerr, and former teammate, David Lee -- both of whom retired as players -- and the advice was clear: "Get to the next thing straight away".

For Bogut, that thing -- at least, the priority -- is being with his kids more. He says he got a taste of being around his family during the pandemic, and wants that to be his focus. The 15-year pro also already has coaching offers, but is intent on not being reactive after his big announcement. Otherwise? Don't be surprised to see Bogut on the poker scene.

"Once the world opens up, I'll try to play in a fair few games and tournaments and whatnot," Bogut said. "I'd like to play in the Aussie Millions, and a few other tournaments around the world, so there's that."

Bogut's career earnings exceed $[US]100 million, so the Victorian choosing to enjoy the fruits of his labour is only reasonable. That labour began in the south east suburbs of Melbourne, moved to the Australian Institute of Sport in Canberra, before a two-year stint at the University of Utah led to a more-than-a-decade long career in the NBA.

The No. 1 overall pick in the 2005 NBA draft, Bogut suited up for five different teams -- the Milwaukee Bucks, Warriors, Dallas Mavericks, Cleveland Cavaliers and Los Angeles Lakers -- winning one NBA Championship, being named to the All-Rookie First Team (2006), an All-NBA Third Team (2010), an All-Defensive Second Team (2015), while finishing a season as the leader in blocked shots (2011).

After establishing himself as one of the best passing big men in the history of the sport, he'd move back to Australia and win an MVP with the Kings, before Father Time truly caught up with him.

On the Rogues Bogues podcast -- where he announced his retirement -- Bogut said he regretted not enjoying the moment more. He reiterated that in his talk with ESPN, but mentioned what he called the "flipside" of that sentiment: That focusing intently on the work led to his long and successful basketball career.

"Grinding out a 15-year career and really putting everything into it means that now's the time to enjoy it," Bogut said. "Now, you can reminisce and look back, and really take all that in and have some deep-thinking moments for yourself, about all those great memories and opportunities you had. For a kid from the south east suburbs of Melbourne, the journey I've had, looking back, is unbelievable, when you look at it holistically."

When Bogut thinks back across his storied career there are moments that stick out to him. Winning a gold medal with the Australian under-19 team back in 2013 is one of them, but being taken with the No. 1 overall pick in an NBA draft is one he was particularly proud of, given the lasting effect it had.

"I think it set the pathway for the rest of these kids that we see, that it is achievable," Bogut said of being taken by the Bucks with the No. 1 pick.

"It wasn't something that we thought could happen. You'd be laughed out of a room if you suggested an Australian would even go top five. I'm very proud of that. I'm very proud of the championship run, and, from a personal point of view, to get to 15 years with the injury run I've had; I know most athletes would've hung them up a long time ago, or wouldn't have been able to get to this point.

"It's an ode to how much time I spent rehabbing, and doing extra stuff that you couldn't see, to get myself right and ready for every game and every training. I'm really proud of that. There were a few times when the surgeons didn't have great news, and the ankle was one, and the other one was the arm. You know, 'you might not make it back to form, and you won't be able to play properly again'. The ankle was a really scary one, and I got through it."

What Bogut's next career move is, is tough to pin down. He says he has offers to coach, and the potential future ownership stake in the Kings is one he still needs to talk with the franchise and league about; that's still very much on the cards, but it's very early in the process.

"I want to just decompress, wait until the new year, and really figure out what I want to do and where I want to go," Bogut said. "I know for sure it won't be the NBA, at least in the immediate future, just because the schedule with kids doesn't work, but I'd like to be involved in basketball in some capacity; it's just a matter of what."

Expect Bogut to follow the advice given to him by Kerr and Lee. He'll have his downtime, sure, and the mixture of his children and new-found success in the podcast world will keep him more than occupied until the new year, but don't expect the brash Bogut to sit on his hands for too long when it comes to deciding that next career move.

He's not completely at peace with retirement -- "can you ever be? Probably not," Bogut said -- but he's set to attack it with vigour.

"You're a long time retired," Bogut said. "That's what everyone tells you. It's just going to be that whole up-and-down battle. Whatever the next step is, that'll really help the cause."