Maclean’s Interview: Chris Bosh

Toronto Raptor Chris Bosh on how getting a tattoo compares to on-court injuries, being a dad, and why he’s taking Spanish lessons

Chris BoshToronto Raptor Chris Bosh may be the greatest self-promoter in pro sports. He’s on Facebook, MySpace and Twitter. He stars in funny skits on YouTube—the first and most famous was a spot in which he appeared as a car salesman, pleading with fans to vote him into the 2008 NBA All-Star game as a starter. He’s the first pro athlete to have an iPhone application—it features exclusive photos and video. And in December, he released First Ink, a documentary about getting his first tattoo. Bosh plays a bit of basketball, too. While his club is hovering around the .500 mark this season, the 25-year-old all-star is putting up career numbers (he’s averaging about 24 points a game). Good timing, considering the US$16-million-a-year forward will likely wade into the free agency pool this year (Bosh, say his handlers, isn’t talking about free agency until the end of the season). There have also been rumours that Bosh could get dealt before the NBA’s Feb. 18 trade deadline. Whatever the case, he’s made his mark. Last month, Bosh dethroned the much-loathed former Raptor Vince Carter to become the team’s all-time leading scorer. Maclean’s recently caught up with Bosh after practice.
Q: Has having a bunch of Europeans on the Raptors’ roster helped you learn a new language or two?
A: I’m picking up Spanish.

Q: Swearing in another language doesn’t count.
A: No, I’m a student. I have tutoring today. I’ve been taking it since October. Twice a week, depending on the schedule. Sometimes three times a week. I just try to get a set amount of time in while I’m here in Toronto. And then I study while I’m on the road.

Q: Why Spanish?
A: I’ve always wanted to learn it. I’m from Texas, where the Hispanic community is massive. And sometimes [Raptors guard] José Calderón and I use it to communicate on the court when we don’t want our opponents to know what we’re saying to each other.

Q: There are a couple of Italians on this club as well. You lining up a tutor for that next?
A: Maybe Italian will be second, if I can get Spanish down.

Q: Has Spanish been tough to learn?
A: Any language is tough, I’m not going to lie. You have to be very consistent, and I’ve been studying pretty much every day for the past four months, and that doesn’t include what I already knew.

Q: With your comedic turns on YouTube getting so much attention—nearly seven million views the last time I checked—have you fielded any feature film offers? Any TV deals?
A: Not yet. I had the chance to do the Jay Leno show a couple of years ago and that was really cool.

Q: So you’d be up for doing something if the right project came along?
A: For sure. I’d try it out. I’m not sure if I’d like it because I’ve never done it but I’m open to it.

Q: What kind of film would you be interested in? Comedy? Romance?
A: I want to do comedy.

Q: Is there anyone in particular that you’d like to star alongside?
A: I can’t be picky. Just give me whatever and I’ll be happy.

Q: Have you always been a bit of a joker, even as a kid?
A: Yeah. People are just now seeing it, because it’s a part of myself that I’ve decided to share.

Q: What made you want to open up?
A: It started with that one video a couple of years ago around the All-Star game. It wasn’t so much about getting votes, it was just to make it competitive. I was behind in the voting. I had to make the numbers look better. [He came up short in the voting, but did start in the game due to an injury to Boston Celtic Kevin Garnett.]

Q: Are you a big locker-room prankster?
A: No, no. I joke around. But I don’t joke too much. Not in a big setting. I’m more of a joker when it’s one-on-one, or with my family.

Q: You have you own website, you’re on MySpace, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. Is taking part in social networking part of the job for the modern-day athlete?
A: It’s a part of the modern world. I wouldn’t say I do it because I’m a modern-day athlete. I just do these things because I enjoy it. I’ve made videos in the past because I enjoyed it. I got into Twitter and Facebook because I enjoyed it.

Q: How do you have the time? Do you have a team of assistants working overtime?
A: I have one guy helping me out.

Q: ESPN named you the most viral athlete in the world last year. Is being everywhere a goal for you?
A: It is now. At first it wasn’t, I was just really going along with the flow. But now it’s a part of what I do.

Q: Last year, you went to court to reclaim 800 Internet domain names—including those of many other athletes and celebrities—from a cybersquatter. Seems like an odd thing for a superstar athlete to be worried about. You won, but why did you bother?
A: Cause that dude was messing things up. I know how important it was to me. I didn’t have because someone else had it. Everyone should have their own name. And whoever wanted their domain name was given it back. It was just a sincere effort to give people back their stuff.

Q: With all the things you’re doing, you’ve pretty much become a publicity machine—which includes being the first pro athlete to have his own iPhone app. Is it just a part of getting yourself out there?
A: It’s just trying different avenues and creating different things. We understand technology. We just try to create new ways to communicate with the modern fan. And new ways to have fun with it.

Q: Is that why you decided to do a documentary about getting a tattoo?
A: I always want to do something groundbreaking, something different. I think that’s what it’s always about. If you have the means to do it, why not?

Q: Considering the average star in the NBA seems to have about 14 tattoos.
A: Is that a proven statistic? [Laughs]

Q: No, it just seems like that [by one estimate, more than 70 per cent of NBA players have tattoos]. So why did it take you so long to get your first one?
A: People get them for different reasons. And it was a whole different process for me. I’m more of an artistic guy, so I wanted to create some kind of symbolism of my life.

Q: It’s essentially a mural of your life, right?
A: Pretty much. It takes some explanation. It’s very detailed. It’s not done yet. It’s going to take a long time.

Q: How many sessions in the chair have you done so far?
A: I’ve only had time to do one so far. I’m probably going to do another four this summer, so hopefully I’ll be closer to getting it done.

Q: What do you have on it so far?
A: There’s a tree, hands and a tiger so far. The actual work of art is done. It’s just finding time to complete the tattoo.

Q: How did the pain of getting a tattoo compare to on-court injuries?
A: On-court injuries suck a little more because the pain lasts longer. But tattoos hurt. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

Q: So how was that first session?
A: It took five hours. There is a lot of shading. I’m doing my whole back.

Q: Did you draw it?
A: No, I was more the creative mind behind it. I created the symbols and I worked with the artist on it because I can’t draw that well.

Q: I read that your dad is quite the artist.
A: Yeah, he can draw his ass off.

Q: Is he a painter?
A: He used to be. He did all that stuff when he was younger, probably about my age. But, you know, he had kids, and he got a job and he didn’t have much free time. But I’ve told my dad that I want him to get into that again one day.

Q: You said that you’re quite artistic. I take it that’s your father’s influence.
A: Yeah, I think it comes from dad. My mother is really smart. She’s great at coming up with creative solutions. While my father can sing, he can draw, he can paint. He’s more of a right side of the brain type of guy.

Q: This was your first Christmas with your daughter Trinity. How has being a dad changed you?
A: It changes your outlook on life. Makes you realize what things are important. The responsibility is huge. I’m a young dude, and it makes me think about my parents. They had me when they were 25. And they were married, and had me, and then my brother came along two years later. Just to have that responsibility in your hands is a little frightening, but it’s exciting at the same time.

Q: Do you see her a fair bit?
A: I have my time with her. It’s tough with the season and her living in the States. She’s in Maryland [with her mother].

Q: So all the custody stuff is in order?
A: All that stuff is good. It’s important that I play a role in her life.

Q: Has she been to any games?
A: No, not yet. But she will. She’ll go to plenty.

Q: Has she changed the way you think about basketball?
A: Basketball is the same. Basketball has always been a chance for me to escape and do what I’m supposed to do. But it puts things in perspective, especially if I have a bad day, of what’s important—having the responsibility of helping out a life.

Q: What’s your take on the whole situation with Gilbert Arenas? [The Washington Wizards all-star guard, who was suspended indefinitely by the league for a December incident involving handguns in the locker room, pled guilty last month to felony gun possession.]
A: It’s the law. It’s unfortunate that things came to that, but the authorities stepped in, and once they do, you can’t do much.

Q: A lot of guys in the NBA—for that matter, in sport—try to sell themselves as tough and cool. But you haven’t been afraid, with your video skits for instance, to seem goofy, at times even a bit nerdy. Do you just not fit the archetype?
A: We make a living playing basketball. You don’t have to be a tough guy or a hard-ass to play this sport. You can be tough but you don’t have to have that bravado. Sometimes it’s good. But I’m not going to be someone I’m not. It’s just me being me.