As the Golden State Warriors faced elimination, Kevin Durant and the team doctors agreed that he was suitable to play. Both parties knew that he was going to be playing through injury, but as far as we know, he was cleared to be good to go.
His calf injury turned into a ruptured achilles in the matter of 20 minutes of gametime. And an injury that was deemed "minor" by team doctors turned into a career altering injury.
So who is to blame for this? The player and his team of advisors? The team and their medical staff? The answer is a little bit more complicated, as he is not the only player to suffer from this kind of predicament.
As fans, it's easy for anyone on the outside to tell a player what to do when they're injured. We can sit back and say a guy should tough it out and come back, or he should push his pride aside and sit on the sidelines while his team goes to battle.
But the people it actually should be easy for are doctors and medical professionals. And throughout the years, it seems like they are either becoming less knowledgeable or have less say in the decisions of player injuries.
We'll look at a couple of guys just as examples. Let's start with Joel Embiid. The guy misses his first two seasons due to injuries. He finally comes back in his third season and the team decides to only allow him to play certain games with a minutes restriction. And it worked. He didn't have any major setbacks, and it allowed him to be healthy for the offseason.
However, his injuries never really went away. So this past season, he decided that it was in his best interest to go 100% for the whole season. This turned out to be the wrong decision because he ran into many problems that could've been avoided.
Such as back spasms, sore knees, and fatigue. By the time the playoffs came, he found himself battling just to get out onto the floor every night that he could. This could have been avoided by giving him more rest throughout the season, and having a better understanding of his body and what it was going through in recovery from the years of injuries.
Another example of this was with Victor Oladipo this season. He suffered a ruptured quad tendon in his knee after he returned from an injury on the same knee. The Pacers knew it could lead to a more serious injury, but they allowed Victor to continue to play.
Team doctors ignored the fact that his injuries could return or that it could even lead to other issues. But instead of doing what was in the player's best interest, they decided to allow the player to dictate what he wanted to do.
Now let's look at an even bigger story in Kawhi Leonard. The San Antonio Spurs and Greg Poppovich have actually gotten in trouble for resting guys too much. So their mismanagement of Kawhi was a rare occurrence. But this rare occurrence ended their hopes of years as title contenders.
Kawhi has battled quite a few injuries throughout his young career, but his leg injury two years ago changed everything. He had been rehabbing to get back and was cleared by team doctors to go ahead and play.
Kawhi played nine games, and he couldn't go anymore. He told the team and the doctors that his body didn't feel right. So as the season went on, the team stood by their medical team's side and claimed that Kawhi was cleared to play and that not playing was his own personal decision.
One would think that nobody knows their body better than the athlete themselves, yet the Spur's team doctors ignored this. Teammates and coaches in the organization thought of it as Kawhi against the team, when in reality it was just him fighting for his own health.
And as we saw him this season with the Toronto Raptors, we could see that he was able to get his body right by working with the team and taking scheduled nights off to maintain his health. He played just 57 games in the regular season, and prepared his body for a run at the championship.
So why don't team doctors actually know what's going on?
The NBA has grown exponentially over the last 20 years. And with the forward thinking commissioner in Adam Silver, they have made great strides in player health and safety. Giving players more rest days, a longer break in the middle of the season, and more off days during the playoffs.
But the next step that must be taken is adding top level medical team talent to the league. So do they accomplish it?
Private doctors always make the most money. And as the NBA grows as a global sport, they are recruiting more and more players from other countries to come and play professional ball here. They need to treat their medical teams the same way.
They must dedicate themselves to finding the best doctors in the world and training them specifically on basketball related injuries. The more knowledge these doctors have on occurring and reoccurring basketball injuries, the better chance players will have at maintaining long and healthy careers.
But along with teaching and training these medical teams, the next step that must be taken is by paying top dollar for the best available sports doctors. The NBA is a multi-billion dollar industry and their outreach is larger than it's ever been.
And until they dedicate themselves to securing the best doctors in the world and paying them more than what they could earn elsewhere, we will continue to have players in a constant battle with their medical teams.
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