He returned to Spokane, Wash., and Gonzaga to recuperate for six months because he said he wanted to be surrounded by love. Soon after returning, Hoiberg entered his life. Hoiberg had leaned on a neighbor near his Chaska home who had undergone the same surgery for peace of mind and paid the favor forward when Turiaf’s agent called.
“Fred told me it was going to be OK, so I was cool,” Turiaf said, “or Fred told me what to expect so I said, ‘Oh, that’s easy.’ ”
Hoiberg’s aftercare was one of the few easy things about Turiaf’s operation, complicated by a blood clot that developed. The surgeon installed a small piece of plastic into Turiaf’s aorta, then closed his chest up with a series of wires down his sternum that probably will remain there the rest of his life.
“I’d only have them removed if I wanted to be 100 percent human and not superhuman,” he said with a grin. “Sometimes when I go to the airport, I ring. I tell them I have heart surgery and they don’t believe. I go like this [he lifts up his shirt] and they just wave me through.”
He has established the Ronny Turiaf Heart to Heart Foundation to raise money for EKGs and heart surgeries for children in need and defibrillators for schools. He calls it “the right thing to do, to give back to people who do not have” because he grew up poor and is forever grateful to late Lakers owner Jerry Buss, who paid for a surgery Turiaf could not afford.
“I would go through it a million times again,” he said. “Because of what I went through, I am able to connect with kids, I’m able to help save kids’ lives. There is nothing I would change.”
He has worn uniform No. 21 throughout most of his career, but didn’t consider it with the Wolves out of respect to Kevin Garnett, who wore it for 13 seasons in Minnesota. So Turiaf asked Hoiberg if he could wear his old No. 32 in his honor.
Hoiberg calls it a “really cool” gesture.
“There’s a reason why Flip Saunders became president here, a reason it was Fred Hoiberg,” Turiaf said. “There’s a reason why I’m here. I’m here to accomplish great things, on and off the court. I strongly believe that. Just like when you go in the ocean, I know this now: I just let the current push me wherever I’m supposed to go. I don’t know where it’s going, but I know it’s supposed to be.”