WEIGHTED DOWN Pro bas­ket­baller Lang suf­fers stroke at age 26

The Washington Times Weekly - - Culture, Etc. - BY BOB COHN

The news about James Lang drew scant at­ten­tion na­tion­wide, and some who did hear about it were not com­pletely sur­prised. He has, af­ter all, fought his weight nearly his en­tire life. But it still jolted those who came to know Lang dur­ing his far-rang­ing bas­ket­ball trav­els.

A 6-foot-10, 280-pound cen­ter whose NBA ca­reer was lim­ited to 11 games with the Wash­ing­ton Wizards in the 2006-07 sea­son, Lang suf­fered a stroke the day af­ter Thanks­giv­ing at his grand­mother’s home near Mo­bile, Ala. It came nine days af­ter the Utah Flash of the NBA De­vel­op­ment League re­leased him for “med­i­cal rea­sons.” He is 26.

Lang is re­cov­er­ing at the Mo­bile In­fir­mary Med­i­cal Cen­ter and has be­gun ther­apy. It could have been much worse.

“They thought they were gonna lose him that night,” said his mother, Wanda Har­ris, who was told her son had blood clots through­out his body. “It was un­be­liev­able.”

His right side was par­a­lyzed at first, but Lang has slightly moved his right arm and leg. He sat up in bed and watched a bas­ket­ball game over the Dec. 5-6 week­end, Har­ris said, but he still can­not speak.

“They hope he can re­gain much of his move­ments,” said Le­van Parker, who coached Lang at Cen­tral Park Chris­tian School in Birm­ing­ham, Ala., and is close to the fam­ily.

Parker called Lang a “gen­tle gi­ant” and a “spe­cial per­son.” Flash owner Brandt Andersen de­scribed him as a pop­u­lar player who gen­er­ously gave his time to the com­mu­nity and loved kids. “He’s just a soft-hearted guy,” Andersen said.

If Lang had a weak­ness, it was food. Nick­named “Big Baby” be­fore the Bos­ton Celtics’ Glen Davis ac­quired the moniker, Lang weighed close to 400 pounds in high school. Al­though he slimmed down to 325, he ad­mit­ted to eat­ing him­self out of the NBA dur­ing his brief stint with the Wizards.

Lang lost more weight and was down to 280 dur­ing an un­suc­cess­ful try­out with the club this sum­mer. He re­turned to the Flash but was waived Nov. 18. Andersen said Lang was con­stantly fa­tigued. Coach Brad Jones said an elec­tro­car­dio­gram of Lang’s heart was “ab­nor­mal” and that he had high blood pres­sure. Har­ris said her son was tak­ing med­i­ca­tion for that.

When asked about Lang on Dec. 9, Wizards guard Gil­bert Are­nas told Mike Jones of The Wash­ing­ton Times, “From what I heard, he was tak­ing stim­u­lants to get down in weight, and that’s what caused [the stroke].”

Har­ris con­firmed Lang was tak­ing a “weight-loss prod­uct” but could not iden­tify it. “I kept ask­ing him what it was, but he never told me,” she said.

At one time, Har­ris said, her son took Su­per Cleanse, an over­the-counter herbal colon cleanser. “He said, ‘Momma, it helps me lose weight real quick,’ “ she said. “But he never got into de­tail with it.”

Andersen and Jones said they did not know Lang was tak­ing any­thing to con­trol his weight. “It was great to see him take so much weight off,” Andersen said. “I never asked him, and it never crossed my mind.”

Har­ris said there is no his­tory of sig­nif­i­cant heart dis­ease in the fam­ily. Speak­ing gen­er­ally, Richard Pearl, a Mo­bile car­di­ol­o­gist, said it is pos­si­ble a weight­con­trol or herbal-cleans­ing prod­uct might coun­ter­act an­other med­i­ca­tion and cause a pa­tient’s blood pres­sure to rise, in­creas­ing the risk of a stroke. But he puts lit­tle cre­dence in the sus­pi­cion.

“Any risk [of mix­ing med­i­ca­tions and sup­ple­ments] ex­ists, but there is prob­a­bly some un­der­ly­ing con­di­tion out­side of all that that you’d have to look at first,” he said.

News of Lang’s stroke first sur­faced on Andersen’s blog over the Dec. 5-6 week­end. Andersen noted that Lang not only was the Flash’s first draft pick, but he also was his son’s fa­vorite player. He wrote that Lang is “a big, kind guy who has al­ways been will­ing to take time out of his day to care about a lit­tle 8 year old boy.”

New Orleans drafted Lang in the sec­ond round out of high school in 2003, but he never played for the Hor­nets. He later signed 10-day con­tracts with At­lanta and Toronto. Again, he did not play. He spent time with the Utah Jazz dur­ing the 2005 pre­sea­son and played in Is­rael.

Lang’s only NBA action came dur­ing an 11-game stretch with the Wizards from Novem­ber 2006 to Jan­uary 2007. In a game against Chicago, he had seven points, four re­bounds and three blocks in nearly 20 min­utes. But over­all, he av­er­aged just one point and one re­bound in 5.0 min­utes a game.

The Wizards cut Lang from their sum­mer-league team in July. Just be­fore his release, he talked to The Wash­ing­ton Times about the weight is­sues that cur­tailed his stay the first time around. “It was just the weight hold­ing me back,” he said.

Then 45 pounds lighter, he said he had al­tered his eat­ing habits, avoid­ing fast food and cook­ies for the most part. He used to eat ham­burg­ers and french fries be­fore games. “Now if I get hun­gry at night­time, I just get a big fruit bowl and eat on it with some wa­ter,” he said.

Har­ris en­rolled her son at Cen­tral Park Chris­tian in 2001 af­ter two years at a pub­lic high school, mainly for the school’s aca­demic rep­u­ta­tion. Parker, also the school’s founder and head­mas­ter, re­called his first meet­ing with Lang. “In comes this 6-10, 390-pound fella we thought we’d have to open both doors for,” he said.

“I wanted a trainer to look at him and tell me what he could do and what he couldn’t do,” said Parker, who re­tired last spring af­ter a 43-year coach­ing ca­reer dur­ing which he won more than 90 per­cent of his games. “I didn’t want to kill him. I say that face­tiously, but look where he is right now.”

Parker said Lang showed good bas­ket­ball skills con­sid­er­ing he could barely move.

“Most peo­ple have to worry about kids do­ing drugs,” he said. “I had a 17-year-old whose mother said you’ve got to watch him about eat­ing candy. She said he’ll hide it in his shoes.”

Blessed with soft hands and a nice shoot­ing touch, Lang got into shape. Soon he was able to run the floor in Parker’s fast­paced of­fense and play the back line of the press. “We had to help James with his dis­ci­pline, but he would do what you de­manded,” Parker said. “His team­mates loved him. He was so un­selfish.”

Lang quickly be­gan at­tract­ing the big col­lege bas­ket­ball pow­ers. Parker said Louisville coach Rick Pitino “took a real per­sonal in­ter­est” in him, but Jerry West and other NBA types were flock­ing to the gym. Lang chose to forgo col­lege and en­ter the NBA Draft.

Parker said he stayed out of the de­ci­sion-mak­ing process and would not sec­ond-guess Lang’s choice to turn pro even though it quickly seemed like the wrong choice.

“I wouldn’t do that with any kid,” he said. Then he added, “But Rick Pitino said he needed two years of col­lege.”


Big man with a big prob­lem: For­mer Wash­ing­ton Wizards player James Lang (right) has strug­gled to con­trol his weight since youth, and that may have con­trib­uted to a stroke he suf­fered last month.

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