Former Baylor star Isaiah Austin, 20, projected as a first-round pick in the upcoming NBA draft, has been diagnosed with Marfan syndrome, a life-threatening condition affecting his heart. He says he will not play basketball again.
Austin, who is 7’1″, had taken the standard physical as part of the routine at the NBA combine. The EKG showed his heart was abnormal. Doctors asserted that he should stop playing basketball immediately. The news was forwarded to Austin’s mother, Lisa Green, who drove through the night from Kansas to Dallas, where her son was, to tell him. She was joined by Baylor coach Scott Drew and Austin’s high school coaches.
Austin told ESPN, “They said I wouldn’t be able to play basketball anymore at a competitive level. They found the gene in my blood sample. They told me that my arteries in my heart are enlarged and that if I overwork myself and push too hard that my heart could rupture. The draft is four days away, and I had a dream that my name was going to be called.”
Austin was determinedly upbeat, saying, “For all of my supporters, I just want to tell them sorry. I’m sorry they couldn’t see me play in the NBA. But it’s not the end; it’s only the beginning.”
Drew released a statement, saying, “This is devastating news, but Isaiah has the best support system anyone could ask for, and he knows that all of Baylor Nation is behind him. His health is the most important thing, and while it’s extremely sad that he won’t be able to play in the NBA, our hope is that he’ll return to Baylor to complete his degree and serve as a coach in our program.”
Austin has shown enormous courage for years. He is blind in his right eye since he suffered through a retinal detachment and four eye surgeries staring when he was 16. He averaged 12.1 points, 6.9 rebounds and 2.4 blocks in 28.9 minutes per game while playing for Baylor.
Marfan syndrome comes from mutations in genes that affect fibrillin, which helps connective tissue in the body keep its strength. Tissues in the body stretch, distort, and tear. The aorta may weaken, bulge, or tear; the eye’s lens or retina can separate from its normal attachments.
People who suffer with Marfan syndrome are taller than expected for their age and taller than their families. When their arm span is measured from fingertip to fingertip, it is greater than their height. It used to be that those diagnosed with Marfan syndrome died in their 30s, but by the late 1990s, most people with Marfan syndrome were able to live until their 60s because there was more success preventing aortic dissection and rupture.
Some famous athletes and celebrities have died from the disease, including the actor Vincent Schiavelli, Olympic volleyball player Flo Hyman, the composer of Rent, Jonathan Larson, and Bradford Cox, the lead singer of the group Deerhunter.