I’m sitting at home right now in basketball shorts, my right leg bandaged. I usually go to work on Fridays (I’m a full-time law student but clerk at a firm at the end of the week) but today, I can’t walk. I’d risk driving, but I don’t know how I’d make it to my car.
Last night, at around 11PM, I faked right and drove hard to my left, taking off to the basket. I’m not quite sure what ensued, but in the end, I came crumbling down to the ground, hearing a boisterous pop from my right knee. As I clutched the knee in pain, a multitude of thoughts fluttered through my mind.
I’m 27, going on 28. I try to play at least once or twice a week. I’ve broken a finger, I’ve sprained ankles, but in this time, in all these years, I’ve never suffered a serious leg injury. I recall thinking regularly, “it’s just a matter of time until it happens.” It’s a matter of odds: you play long enough, your day will eventually come.
As I laid there fearing the worst, I thought to myself, “this is it. This is the moment I had dreaded but knew would one day come.”
Strangely, rather than the pain, I remember immediately thinking of the implications. Why did I drive? Why do I regularly/usually look to drive? I thought of the frequent criticism of Tracy McGrady in his later years with the Rockets – that he settled for jumpers, avoiding the drive, to save his body. While I understood his thought process, I never could really understand it…until now. Why ever drive in at all when a jab-stepped jumper can do the same damage? Sure, it’s obviously beneficial to the team itself when one player is hell-bent on penetration–thus, sucking in the defense–but why sacrifice to be that player? From a standpoint of behavioral economics, isn’t that sort of selflessness irrational? An individual is not maximizing his own utility by putting his body at greater risk, even if it benefits the team. Why drive when someone else will and you can score as much with pullup jumpers?
As I laid there, I decided that when I did make it back, I would practice using those same fakes to create space for jumpers rather than driving to the rim. I’m a law student playing for fun. Now imagine the bargaining process an actual professional athlete with millions at stake undergoes.
[QUICK SIDENOTE ON MCGRADY: I don't think I've ever seen a greater contrast in playing style in one player than when I was watching the first few minutes of Mavs-Rockets Game 1 in 2005. It was like seeing someone drunk on the highway when you were used to riding shotgun as they went 15 in a school zone. If you go back and watch that tape, he was putting his head down and hoping to dunk everything every time he touched it. It was never more evident that he didn't go all-out during the 82....but why would he? What purpose would that exposure to injury have served? The team still won 50 games while he dropped in 25 per...]
Random thought: I don’t know why, but I keep thinking about Larry Johnson coming back, I think, the very next game after being carried off the court in New York. Of all of the people who have gotten injured, I have no idea why Larry Johnson comes to mind. Perhaps it was the emotional wave that Knicks team was riding en route to the Finals.
A not so random thought: Derrick Rose is coming back after the All-Star break, a development which certainly serves as one of the most intriguing of the season. One of the league’s brightest stars, the night the former MVP went down was one of basketball’s darkest days, not just because he would be out but because it’s likely he will never again be the same. There is quickness and then there is Derrick Rose, a man who appeared to be playing with a jetpack strapped to his back at times. Without that extra burst, I’m not sure how he can ever be the same man.
A related thought: This makes it even more spectacular that neither Michael Jordan nor Kobe Bryant, for all of their years in the league, suffered a debilitating injury, moreso Jordan because he didn’t even fall victim to the nagging injuries that have plagued the Laker great.
Don’t ever repeat this again: It’s crazy how in one moment, in one instant, one wrong turn can literally change everything. For as much as James Harden attacks the hoop, let’s join hands and supplicate for his health.
Huq’s Pen is an infrequent potpourri of musings by editor Rahat Huq, composed from the disabled list.