NBA Injuries: Will Kevin Durant’s injury really change how the league deals with recuperating players?
Somebody has to be responsible.
In the aftermath of Kevin Durant’s devastating injury, that sentiment is pervasive throughout the NBA and its fans. Someone has to be responsible for this happening. Jalen Rose blasted the media and fans which pressured Durant to play. Charles Barkley blamed the Golden State Warriors organization itself for pressuring him to play. Others say that Durant himself, as a grown man with the final decision on whether to play or not, should bear the ultimate blame.
But all of this talk is mere sound and fury. Blame looks into the past when we should be looking into the future. Will Kevin Durant’s injury approach how the fans, players, and teams view injuries in the playoffs? Will anything fundamentally change? While I certainly hope it does, there is little reason to think it will.
Glorifying “No Pain, No Gain”
As much as fans and analysts are mourning Durant’s loss, a fundamental fact has not changed: we glorify players who play through injuries. Willis Reed’s Game 7 entrance is one of those classic NBA moments which even fans born in this century know about. There are plenty of other famous moments, be it Michael Jordan’s Flu Game or Steve Nash leading the Phoenix Suns to a Game 1 victory over the rival Spurs while playing with a black eye.
This is not to suggest that such moments should not be lauded. They should. But the flip side of players being honored when they do perform under pressure even when injured is that a player who sits out from injury in the playoffs is going to be viewed as soft. This is not just a media thing. As Bleacher Report noted, the Warriors' own locker room was growing irritated with Durant after Game 4, as they pointed out other Warriors who were playing through injury. So why couldn’t Durant?
Well, we found out why. But since every player and every injury is different, there is absolutely nothing stopping us from starting this cycle of castigating a player for being soft all over again. Oh, maybe Durant shouldn’t have played. But what happens when James Harden or Anthony Davis or some other star has to sit out six months from now because they have some injury? We will likely repeat this cycle all over again, with fans, media and players wondering how injured that star really is.
Teams must take care
Under those circumstances, it is the teams which must make the best decision. In 2003, Dirk Nowitzki was held out for the Western Conference Finals due to a sprained knee. Maybe the Mavericks could have won the Conference Finals, and by extension the NBA Finals, had Nowitzki played. Or maybe Dirk would have wrecked his knee, rubbed some Testogel on it, and had a much shorter career.
These examples, along with San Antonio and their mess with Kawhi Leonard, shows that determining whether a player is injured or risks further reinjury is difficult for even the best teams. But that is all the more reason for teams to err on the side of caution, to protect their players over the long term.
The Golden State Warriors did not do that, perhaps in part because they knew they may not have Durant around in the long term. And the fact remains that injured players will continue to face pressures to get back onto the court before they are ready, with resulting catastrophic consequences.
That is perhaps the most tragic aspect of Kevin Durant’s injury. It was entirely avoidable. But the factors which caused him to take the court and rupture his Achilles are not going to go away anytime soon. The grim reality is that we will see other players with years shaved off of their careers as they play before they are ready, and there is little reason to hope for things to get better.