During Chris Bosh's senior year at Lincoln High School in Dallas, Texas, it was normal to find him shooting hoops in the gym. After all, he was a McDonald's All-American who had led the basketball team to an undefeated season and a state title. But Bosh raised some eyebrows when he camped out in the computer lab before practice to play around with Adobe Illustrator, learn HTML, and lead classmates in robot design.
"The kids would ask, 'What are you doing here?' " recalls the 6′11″ Miami Heat center-forward, who participated in computer graphics and engineering clubs. "They saw my height, and I guess they thought the only place I belong is on the court."
Bosh didn't mind the question. He understood the stereotype that comes with his size and talent. He just wasn't going to live up to it. "I had some free time before practice. I filled that time learning about computer graphics," Bosh says. "I like trying different things that challenge me."
Things like advocating for computer science education, establishing a men's tie line, and his insatiable appetite for reading make him an unconventional athlete. And when he's on the hardwood, his versatility makes him a nontraditional big man. While most NBA pros his height live in the low post, you can catch Bosh beyond the arc, comfortably spotting up to take a three-pointer.
Today, the 30-year-old continues to challenge himself. When Miami's Big Three disbanded this summer, Bosh, the third option behind LeBron James (now with the Cleveland Cavaliers) and Dwyane Wade for the past four years, became the team's go-to guy after he re-signed with the Heat. "It's what I wanted. Just like with all of the other stuff I do, I want to push myself and see what I can do," Bosh says. "I'm ready to be the leader of this team."
THE COOL NERD
Growing up in Dallas, Bosh always had two things at his fingertips: a basketball and a keyboard. Bosh, who has been dribbling the ball since he was in diapers, was raised in a techie household. His mother worked at Texas Instruments, a company known for manufacturing graphing calculators and semiconductors, and owned a computer business, while his father was a plumbing engineer. Bosh was constantly surrounded by software and gadgets. "My brother [Joel] and I would use Photoshop to make our own album covers for fun," Bosh remembers. "My mom brought home one of the first editions of the digital camera. Stuff like that was always around the house when we were young."
Bosh's upbringing influenced his interests in school as he balanced hoops and academics. He became a top five national recruit, led Lincoln to a 40–0 record during his final season there, was named Mr. Basketball in his home state, and played AAU ball with the Texas Blue Chips. He was also an honor student who was a member of the school's computer graphics club WizKids, the Association of Minority Engineers, and the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE). Bosh even helped design a robot for a state competition.
"He knew how to use AutoCAD, the software we were using to create the blueprint for the robot," says Tracey Etheredge, the math teacher who recruited Bosh to assist the school's NSBE chapter in its robot development. "We didn't win the competition, but we did receive very high marks on our log book for technical drawings. I credit Chris for that."
Although his computer and engineering clubmates knew about his basketball life, his teammates were clueless about the life he led as a self-described "cool nerd." Bosh preferred it that way. "I didn't tell them because I knew they would rag on me," Bosh says. "During a field trip to a graphics and animation company in North Dallas with WizKids, some of the kids were doing chants and singing songs on the bus. I thought, If my teammates saw me, they would joke on me so bad!"
Still, Bosh took pride in being tech-savvy — just as he does today. He's the Heat's franchise player, but he is also a proponent of learning computer coding. "The way I look at it is, coding is a big part of how technology works," Bosh explains. "Take social networks like Instagram and Twitter, and the apps we use. They are based on coding. So I like to urge young people to learn how to code because it's a major part of our lives and will be in the future. Coding is cool."
Etheredge, who taught Bosh algebra II and precalculus, isn't surprised by his forward thinking. She remembers him as the kid who sought extra help during his senior year of high school. "Around the time of the McDonald's All-American game, Chris asked for tutoring because he was going to miss class. It wasn't so he wouldn't fall behind. He said he wanted the extra help so he could get ahead," Etheredge says. "Chris was a true student-athlete."
NO MISTER SOFTY
Upon graduating from high school in 2002, Bosh spent one season at Georgia Tech, where he drew comparisons to NBA centers Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett. His 15.6 points, nine rebounds, and 2.16 blocks per game for the Yellow Jackets (his stats were tops in the ACC) earned him the conference rookie of the year award. Even though Georgia Tech had a good computer graphics program, Bosh set his sights on the NBA and was a part of the same 2003 draft class as James and Wade. Bosh was selected fourth overall by the Toronto Raptors, for whom he played seven seasons.
During his time as a Raptor, Bosh was a consistent producer in the post and became the team's best player. He wasn't, however, getting much attention while playing on a small market team that could barely hit the .500 mark. Bosh averaged a double double in points and rebounds for three seasons and averaged 20.2 points and 9.4 rebounds per game overall in Toronto — stats that propelled him to the All-Star Game five times. But the Raptors struggled to create a winning culture and failed to build a strong supporting cast around Bosh, only making two playoff appearances while he was with the team. (They were bounced in the first round in 2007 and '08.)
In 2010, Bosh signed with the Heat to join James and Wade and form the Big Three in Miami. Amid buzz and expectations, they made bold predictions about how many titles they would win before even stepping on the floor together. ("Not one, not two, not three," as James infamously proclaimed.) For NBA fans, the trio's self-assurance made them seem like villains.
With a higher profile as a member of the Heat, Bosh drew more attention and became the butt of jokes. Bosh, who isn't much of a trashtalker and surrendered the post in an effort to help Miami space the floor for James and Wade to drive to the hole, developed a reputation for being soft. His finesse on offense sparked questions about his toughness as a big man.
"People started lashing out at me. I didn't understand why they were doing that," Bosh says. "I came to Miami to win and all of a sudden people were blowing up my Twitter mentions with some nasty remarks."
The dislike for Bosh grew when Miami fell to the Dallas Mavericks in the 2011 NBA Finals. Bosh's reaction to the loss didn't win over the cyber-bullies either. After the final game, a camera captured Bosh nearly collapsing in tears on his way to the locker room, setting off a joke-filled, social media frenzy. "It was gut-wrenching to come close and lose. I wanted to win so bad. Yeah, I cried. But those were my feelings. Raw emotion," he says. "I shouldn't be shamed for that."
Bosh admits for the first two years in Miami he was affected by the harsh comments. "My mood would change sometimes because of something mean I read about myself. It got to me. It got to me because I cared," he says.
He has learned to ignore the not-so-nice things people say. And now that he is a proven winner with two straight NBA titles in 2012 and '13, Bosh doesn't have time for that anyway. "I had to work through it because people will always talk. That's not going to change," Bosh says. And for those who still think he's soft, Bosh brushes off the label and says, "You can't be soft and win championships."
BIG SHOT BOSH
After the San Antonio Spurs defeated the Heat in the 2014 Finals, the Big Three players opted out of their contracts to become free agents. James returned to the team that drafted him, the Cavs, while Bosh and Wade stayed in Miami. With James gone, so is the Heat's top scorer and leader. And with 32-year-old Wade showing signs of slowing, Bosh — who was wooed by the Houston Rockets but chose a five-year, $118 million deal with the Heat — is now the centerpiece of Miami's offense and leadership.
"Losing LeBron leaves a huge gap to fill. He averaged something like 25 points, seven rebounds, and six assists a night. We'll have to divide that up now," Bosh says. "I have high expectations for us, but I'm realistic. We're not a championship team this year, but we can definitely kick up some dust. We just all have to do more."
Doing more may include an increase in post play for Bosh. The dynamics of the Heat during the last four years meant Bosh was, at times, a player without a position. He sacrificed his numbers (he had 16.2 points and 6.6 boards per game last season, his lowest averages since his rookie year) for victories, which meant doing uncommon things for a player his size, like shooting threes. Last season, he made more treys than ever — 74 out of 218 attempts. Bosh will, however, tweak his game as the team shifts away from the Big Three era. "The amount of threes I take will probably decrease," he says, "but I still want to use it as a weapon."
"When I first arrived in Miami, coach [Erik] Spoelstra recommended Malcolm Gladwell's Outliers to me, but I had read it before," Bosh says. "He was a little surprised."
Just don't be surprised, Bosh says, when he shows how good a leader he can be in the absence of James. "I wasn't relied on as much before; now I'll be expected to produce every night," Bosh says. "I know some people don't think I can do it, but I know can."
Photos: JEFFERY A. SALTER FOR SPORTS ILLUSTRATED (Bosh faces), JESSE D. GARRABRANT/NBAE/GETTY IMAGES (Bosh and Wade), JOHN W. MCDONOUGH/SPORTS ILLUSTRATED (Bosh and Duncan)