Injuries are one of the worst things that can happen to an NBA player. They derail careers, set back seasons, and can decide championships. No one wants them, and everyone feels bad for the players that have them. However, injuries have become even more apparent in today’s modern NBA. Excluding the 2020-2021 season, which was condensed and really increased player’s chances of injuries, almost every star player has had some bad injuries in their career.
Before LeBron James had his ankle sprain against the Atlanta Hawks this year, he had a groin injury in 2019 during his first year with the Los Angeles Lakers. Kawhi Leonard spent the whole 2018 season rehabbing an injury caused during the 2017 NBA playoffs by Zaza Pachulia. Steph Curry had ankle issues for his first few seasons in the league, Klay Thompson hasn’t seen the court for two years, and the same just about goes for John Wall. Kevin Durant tore his achilles in the 2019 NBA Finals, Joel Embiid didn’t play in an NBA game until his third season, as he spent the first two rehabbing a foot that he broke; and then broke again. Derrick Rose had an injury that ended his career as an MVP back in 2012, and Paul George… well, let’s just not talk about that one.
Anyway, you see the point. Even before the condensed season, star players were getting injured faster and more often than ever, and it was very sad to see. In the 1960s, when players were treated like garbage and had to play ridiculous back to backs and didn’t have full time trainers, they still somehow managed to get injured less than players today do (of course, this could just be recency bias on my part). So how is it that with modern technology, professional full-time trainers, and training programs, players are still so often getting injured? What makes players injury prone? That’s what we’re going to find out today.
The first thing to look out for is a fluke injury. Often, a player that has a fluke injury has to spend a lot of time recovering, and because they were injured, it makes them more likely for injury again. According to PT Solutions, you are more likely to re-sprain your ankle if you have already sprained it in the past. The article also goes on to say, “Ankle sprains not cared for properly after injury may go on to cause reoccurring complications for life.” The same goes for all sorts of other injuries. A few players that had the potential to be all-time greats will have their legacy suffer, because after one brutal injury, many other minor (or in some cases major) injuries followed. Some examples are Rose, George, and Dwight Howard.
The players that are most likely to get injured are guards and centers, so forwards get a lucky pass. Why is this, you may ask? Basketball is a game of giants (at least for most people), and guards are generally the smallest people on the court, ranging anywhere from 6’5″ (a very tall guard) all the way down to Muggsy Bogues at 5’3″. Smaller players are likely to get banged around a lot more, and when explosive guards drive to the rim, more often than not they are met with contact. It is this contact that causes so many injuries, including Rose’s, Curry’s broken arm, Lamelo Ball’s broken arm, Shaun Livingston‘s horrendous injury, Gordon Hayward‘s broken leg, and so on.
Centers are at an increased chance of injury because of how large they are. An undersized center like Wes Unseld is 6’9″, whereas the tallest can reach up to 7’7″, where the likes of Manute Bol, Gheorghe Mureșan, and Shawn Bradley tower over their opponents. Because centers are so large, their hearts have to work so much harder than average-sized people to get blood to their various body parts. Because of this strain on the heart, it lowers the amount of years the heart can keep it up, and as a result, players end up with heart issues or other injuries. Bol died at the age of 47 from acute kidney failure, Wilt Chamberlain died at 63 from congestive heart failure, Jason Collier died at 28 from a heart condition, and Yinka Dare died at 31 from a heart attack. This problem will only worsen as the NBA becomes faster and an even bigger emphasis is placed on shooting threes. Players are racing from one end of the court to the other every 24 seconds, and if big guys are not in shape, their bodies will take a huge toll.
Not taking care of your body is an easy place to start a reputation as injury prone. When you’re younger, you can get away with not taking as good care of your body, but when you’re older, it starts to catch up to you. You can lie to others, but you can’t lie to your body, and if you’re doing something wrong (whether it’s drugs, alcohol, or simply living an unhealthy life), it’ll show on the court. There’s a reason the average NBA career is only four and a half years long.
The last thing that can cause injuries for a select few amount of players is working too much, or playing too much basketball. We’re all human, and human bodies need recovery time. When a player pushes their body to the max, it often comes back to bite them during the later years of their career. An example of this is Jerry West. As a kid and an NBA player, he would shoot hundreds of shots per day, and it paid off. However, towards the end of his career, West became a very injury prone player, and it forced him into retirement a little earlier than he wanted. West broke his nose at least NINE times, as well as breaking both his hands twice. West also suffered from twisted and sprained fingers, wrists, ankles and knees, pulled and torn muscles, and suffered many bruises, according to the New York Times.
Another example of this is Larry Bird. Bird was almost always the hardest worker on the floor, and like West, he practiced his jump shot hundreds and hundreds of times a day. However, most of Bird’s gruesome injuries could have been avoided (if you want to learn more about Bird’s injuries, I suggest reading this article) if he hadn’t done unnecessary work. Bird believed in doing work around the home by himself, and in 1985, he shoveled gravel to make a basketball court for himself to practice. Unfortunately, he would tweak his back while doing so, and that one small injury would lead to many, many others down the line, forcing him to retire in 1992. In his last season, he only appeared in 45 games, in 1991 he would only appear in 60 games, and in 1989 he only played six games due to injury. Despite the injuries, I will always respect Bird for doing what he believes in and not letting someone else do the work he could for him… even if it cost him a few seasons in the NBA.
The last example is Kobe Bryant. As we know, Bryant had the greatest work ethic in the history of basketball, so it’s no surprise that taking hundreds of jump shots and absorbing contact while driving to the rim eventually took it’s toll. When Bryant had that Achilles injury in 2013, it was the beginning of the end, as he had been playing practically every minute of every game that season. From there, Bryant never fully recovered, and had multiple nagging injuries afterwards. A combination of not getting enough rest and grinding himself into the ground was why an older Bryant had trouble staying on the court; although a lot of the blame can fall on his coach, Mike D’Antoni, for playing the older Bryant so many minutes.
So, what’s the key to longevity? Let’s look at some of the players who played the longest in the NBA, and why they could play for so long.
Robert Parish is the NBA’s current leader in games played, appearing in a total of 1,611 NBA games. Parish’s career was practically built for longevity, as when he was in middle school, he rarely ever played. Because of how bad he was early on and how he was a late bloomer, ridiculous expectations were not placed on Parish as soon as he entered college and the NBA. As a backup center for the Golden State Warriors, Parish played in almost every game for four seasons but didn’t play a ridiculous amount of minutes. When he was shipped to Boston along with Kevin McHale, Parish found the perfect role of 3rd option, behind McHale and Bird. Because Bird and McHale handled most of the scoring, Parish could still score nearly 20 points while not having to deal with the crushing double-teams that Bird was faced with (often, Parish would become open off of these double-teams) and while he played in the post, his style was not a bruising style like that of the Detroit Pistons. The Chief was always in shape, and even after he left the Celtics and eventually the Hornets, he played on the Bulls, where Michael Jordan was busy with the spotlight. Scottie Pippen and Dennis Rodman were next up, so Parish could play 43 games for them and win a championship before retiring on a bright spot.
Although Lebron James‘ health has started to deteriorate in recent years, he still has amazing longevity. James spends over $1 million on his body every year, and spends hours a day doing PT, massages, and at least 30 minutes of stretching. James also takes hot and ice baths, as well as icing his knees every day; he’s been doing that since 7th grade. With all this, it’s no wonder why James has had such a long career, and is the only player left in the 2003 NBA Draft class that is still playing to this day.
Vince Carter in particular got lucky with his NBA career. Carter played shooting guard and small forward for most of his career (in Atlanta for his last two seasons he played power forward), so he was not in the kind of role that gave him a higher chance to be injured. Carter also never had any season ending injuries, which helped him a lot. There were small nagging injuries in the early 2000s, but nothing that halted or shortened his career like it did for his cousin Tracy McGrady. With a little bit of luck and a 6’6″ body, Carter was able to play for 22 years in the NBA, the most ever in a career.
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, much like Parish, did not have a bully-ball approach to the game, and his sky hook did not take a toll on his body the way Shaquille O’Neal and Charles Barkley had when they were posting up their opponents. Abdul-Jabbar was able to play in 20 NBA seasons, and because of how he played the game, he never appeared in less than 74 games in an NBA regular season. The thing that Abdul-Jabbar was associated with in terms of injuries were migraines, which are painful, but do not take weeks to recover from. An approach to playing the game that didn’t physically destroy him, no major career altering injuries, and playing with other superstars like Magic Johnson, Oscar Robertson, and James Worthy to help take the pressure off led to the longevity of Abdul-Jabbar, who can make the case for the second or third greatest player of all time.
In conclusion, the key to a long NBA career is to find the perfect situation, not play too bruising a play style, and do everything you can to help your body keep up for longer, such as stretching, icing, and physical therapy. Hopefully this has helped explain what makes players more likely to become injury prone. Don’t forget to follow the NBA Blog, and as always, have an awesome day!