Ronny Turiaf was never a major player for the Los Angeles Lakers, but he did spend his first three seasons in the NBA with the team and became a fan favorite due to his non-stop motor and excellent celebrations on the bench. Turiaf also dealt with a very serious heart issue before he ever played a game which required open heart surgery.
Even though the Lakers had to void Turiaf’s contract, they retained his rights so that they could re-sign him after he recovered and even paid for his surgery. In a piece he penned for The Players’ Tribune, Turiaf expressed gratitude for everything the team did for him:
“Gratitude” is also my word for the Lakers. Once I failed my physical, they had zero obligation to pay for my surgery. Zero. I had never even met Dr. Buss at that point. But they did, and they were added to the list of people I needed to honor by getting back on the court.
Turiaf also said that he asked general manager Mitch Kupchak for his number 21 jersey and ensured him that he would wear it one day:
I told Mitch Kupchak to bring a jersey to the hospital. I had a Sunday white right in front of my bed. He came to see me, and I had tubes in my neck — tubes everywhere. But I told him, “I’m gonna rock that No. 21. I guarantee you.” He didn’t believe me. I know he didn’t. He had to be like, There’s no way that kid comes back and plays.
Going through open-heart surgery for an enlarged aortic valve in your heart and coming back to play in the NBA only six months later is an amazing accomplishment. Turiaf’s heart and fighting spirit on the basketball court makes complete sense when considering what he dealt with off of it.
The Lakers have always said that they consider their players family and always treat them as such. What they did for Turiaf is more proof of what the organization truly believes in.[divide]