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Derrick Rose and the Chicago Bulls never recovered from his 2012 injury

NBA History: 5 Injuries that changed the NBA forever

Like with all major sports, injuries play a prominent role in the NBA. However, due to smaller roster sizes and the impact made by the game's best players, injuries in the NBA can be especially destructive.


While every team must deal with injuries throughout the course of the season, there have been several instances in NBA history where a team has not been able to recover from a significant setback to one of their biggest stars.

Additionally, plenty will argue that an injury at the wrong moment cost their team a shot at a title. So, with plenty to chose from, here are our top five picks for five injuries that changed the landscape of the NBA.

#5 Russell Westbrook - Oklahoma City Thunder (2013)

Russell Westbrook and the Thunder were entering their prime ahead of the 2013 postseason

The Oklahoma City Thunder reached the NBA Finals for the first time in 2012, and despite losing to the Miami Heat, they entered the following postseason with immense confidence. OKC entered the 2013 playoffs seeded first thanks to a 60-22 regular-season record, and Russell Westbrook looked to be in the form of his career as he recorded a near triple-double in Game 1 of the first round against the Houston Rockets.

However, the point guard tore the meniscus in his right knee after a now-infamous collision with Patrick Beverley, and the Thunder were eliminated in the second round by the Memphis Grizzlies. The injury also had lasting implications, as Westbrook was still not at 100% when the 2014 Western Conference Finals rolled around, and the Thunder fell in six games to the San Antonio Spurs.


The Thunder came close again in 2016, although it was clear by that point that their opportunity had been snatched away by injuries. Kevin Durant took his talents to Golden State later that summer, while Westbrook eventually left Oklahoma City without a title.

#4 Larry Bird - Boston Celtics (1988)

Larry Bird's injury signaled the end of the Celtics' contending years

The Boston Celtics finished the 1987-88 NBA regular season with the second-best regular-season record and came within two games of reaching the 1988 Finals.


While the Celtics couldn't secure a second title in three years, Larry Bird enjoyed one of the best seasons of his career, averaging career highs in points (29.9) and field goal percentage (53%). At 31, Bird was still in his prime and the two-time MVP looked set to lead the Celtics in their ongoing pursuit of a sixteenth title.

However, Bird's 88-89 season was halted after just six games, as the Indiana native underwent surgery for bone spurs. Bird eventually returned a year later, although the All-Star struggled to recapture his old form, and retired three years later. His injury cost a talented Celtics squad one final tilt at the title, and the franchise would have to wait two decades for its next success.

#3 Kevin Durant - Golden State Warriors (2019)

Kevin Durant's injury against the Houston Rockets changed the course of the playoffs

Heading into the 2018-19 season, many lauded the Golden State Warriors' roster as the best ever assembled. Steve Kerr's team were coming off back-to-back titles, and Golden State had stunned the NBA world by picking up a fifth All-Star in DeMarcus Cousins.

After coasting throughout the regular season, the Warriors faced their first real test in the second round of the playoffs against the Houston Rockets. However, with the series tied at 2-2, Kevin Durant left Game 5 with a suspected Achilles injury which was later reported to be a calf strain.

The Durant-less Warriors eventually prevailed, and weeks of immense speculation followed as to if and when KD would return. The 2014 MVP bravely returned for the Warriors' must-win Game 5 of the NBA Finals, although his comeback was halted by a catastrophic Achilles injury sustained in the second quarter.

The Toronto Raptors eventually prevailed to win their first-ever NBA Championship in six games and brought an end to the Warriors' dynasty. Needless to say, the Warriors would have won a third-straight title with Durant on the court, and a third straight title may have been enough to convince the superstar to snub a move to Brooklyn.


#2 Karl Malone - Los Angeles Lakers (2003)

Karl Malone clashed with Kobe Bryant during his one-year spell in Los Angeles

After spending nearly two decades with the Utah Jazz, Karl Malone joined the Los Angeles Lakers in the summer of 2003 as he attempted to win a championship. The combination of Malone, Gary Payton, Shaquille O'Neal, and Kobe Bryant made the Lakers favorites for the title, although Malone was forced to miss almost 40 games after suffering a serious injury.

The 40-year-old returned for the playoffs but was injured during the Finals as the Lakers were defeated by the Detroit Pistons. In the ensuing summer, Kobe Bryant flirted with an exit, while Shaq left for Miami. O'Neal later claimed that he would have spent his entire career in Los Angeles if not for Malone's injury, a scenario that would have forced Bryant to fulfill his threat of joining a rival team.

Ultimately, Malone's injury may have cost the Lakers a title, although its knock-on effect paved the way for Kobe to become the greatest Laker of all-time.


#1 Derrick Rose - Chicago Bulls (2011)

Derrick Rose suffered a career-altering injuring during the 2012 playoffs

Back in 2008, Derrick Rose was drafted first overall by his hometown Chicago Bulls after making a huge impression during his one year of college basketball with the Memphis Tigers. Upon entering the league, Rose made an immediate impact and was named 2009 Rookie of the Year. The point guard continued to improve over the next 24 months, and in 2011, Rose became the NBA's youngest MVP winner in history.

During Rose's MVP winning season, the Bulls had led the NBA in wins (62), and a young roster looked likely to build on their 2011 Conference Finals loss to the Heat. However, Chicago's plans were shattered when Rose tore the ACL in his left knee against the Sixers in the 2012 playoffs.

Rose missed more than a year, and upon his return was no longer the devastating force that had taken the NBA by storm. The Chicago Bulls hopes of building a dynasty were over, and a fading Rose was traded to the Knicks in 2016.

Edited by
Raunak J
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