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 last 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 Wednesday, 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 over-the-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 weight-control 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.