The NBA’s 6 Most Infamous Knee Injuries
During the third quarter of an unremarkable National Basketball Association game between the Chicago Bulls and the Portland Trail Blazers on November 22, Derrick Rose suffered a non-contact injury while trying to grab a rebound after a missed shot.
As the Blazers brought the fast break up the court, Rose hobbled to the sidelines and was later assisted to the locker room, where security kept out prying eyes. Later that weekend, news broke that Rose, who had torn his ACL in his left knee during the 2012 playoffs and had missed the next season in its entirety to make sure he was 100 percent fit, had a torn medial meniscus in his right knee.
Knee injuries are far from the basketball death knells that they once were, but Rose’s chances to return to All-Star form seem distant as of now, even as hoops fans everywhere wish him a speedy and healthy recovery. With that in mind, here is a look back at six of the NBA’s most infamous knee injuries. This list is not ranked.
1. Penny Hardaway
Penny Hardaway looked as if he could be the best point guard of all time. Standing 6 feet, 7 inches and just under two bills, the third pick of the 1993 draft by the Golden State Warriors was traded to the Orlando Magic before the draft was done, and by the end of that first season, Penny-to-Shaq seemed poised to contend for a spot in the best-ever pantheon of one-two punches.
Combining the physical presence and passing acumen of Erving “Magic” Johnson with the boundless athleticism that has come to dominate the basketball landscape, Hardaway in his prime was a better-shooting, better-passing, taller Russell Westbrook. Teamed with a young Shaquille O’Neal, Hardaway’s career reached its zenith in his second season, when he averaged 20 points and 7 assists on the way to the NBA Finals, helping the Magic topple the Jordan’s Chicago Bulls on the way.
And then, in 1997, it all came crashing down. Hardaway’s first knee setback was an ACL injury that, according to Dr. James Andrews — the knee surgery deity of professional sports — wasn’t diagnosable at the time owing to technological limitations in medical imaging. While Hardaway never suffered a dramatic collapse to the floor, anyone who was around to see Penny at his peak will tell you that something definitely went wrong, and the end result could barely be mistaken for the same guy who had brought us the untouchable Lil Penny commercials.
Ultimately, Hardaway gathered four All-Star nominations and a pair of All-NBA First Team nods and would go on to play unremarkable minutes for the Phoenix Suns, the New York Knicks, and the Miami Heat, finishing his career in 2007 with a total stat line of 15/5/1.6 steals and six knee surgeries.
2. Chris Webber
Why did the Golden State Warriors trade Hardaway? To get their hands on one of the best passing big men of all time: Chris Webber. Fresh off revolutionizing the appeal of college hoops (and underlining the importance of timeouts) as a key member of Michigan’s Fab Five, Webber’s game was brash, confrontational, and totally awesome. With the handles of a point guard and the size of a center, C-Webb had it all.
After threatening to utilize the first-year opt-out clause in his contract with Golden State after clashing with head coach Don Nelson, Webber was traded to the Washington Bullets (now the Washington Wizards), showed flashes of his unique basketball brilliance, and signed a large contract with the team. After three seasons that were equally underwhelming and impressive, Webber landed on the Sacramento Kings in 1998 and became the centerpiece of one of the funnest teams of the last 20 years, leading Sac Town to serious title contention year in and year out.
All that came crashing down in the 2003 playoffs, when Webber suffered a torn lateral meniscus on a non-contact play against the Dallas Mavericks. He was running to catch an alley-oop. Undergoing micro-fracture surgery in the 2003 offseason, Webber would continue to play until 2008 but the injuries continued to pile up, and he never regained his early career form.
3. Tracy McGrady
Described by Kobe Bryant as the hardest player to guard in the NBA, Tracy McGrady at his peak was a blend of effortless ability and boundless athleticism with an incredible scoring touch that fans and general managers salivate over. If ever a basketball player had steez — a combination of style and ease most famously detailed by Will Smith in Men In Black as “making this look good” — that player was T-Mac.
With a heavy-lidded stare and a half slouch to his posture, McGrady always seemed to be mailing it in a little bit, even when he was furiously piling on the points. After spending most of his rookie season on the bench in Toronto behind cousin Vince Carter, McGrady really blossomed into a superstar in Orlando, turning in one of the all-time greatest single-season stat lines by averaging 32 points, 6 rebounds, and 5 assists a game. He was 23 at the time.
After his superstar partner never materialized (Grant Hill was on the Magic, but he and McGrady only played 40-something games together in the four years they were both on the team), T-Mac ended up on the Houston Rockets, carrying another oft-injured superstar in Yao Ming and helping the team to a 22-game win streak.
In 2008, he underwent a fairly minor surgical procedure, an arthroscopic knee surgery to clear out loose particles and a small lesion. He was never the same. McGrady’s knee never properly recovered from the scope, and he eventually opted for micro-fracture surgery in 2009. The player who once snatched victory from the jaws of defeat by scoring 13 points in 35 seconds would remain earthbound for his tenure in professional hoops.
4. Michael Redd
In between commercial breaks during the Blazers-Bulls game that featured the Rose injury, our television was switched to NBA TV’s Gametime Live. The channel’s flagship television program is standard ESPN-esque talking head flare. As sinister luck would have it, the host and analysts were talking about the Rose injury. Everyone deferred to one analyst, former player Michael Redd, who asked, “Oh, I’m the expert on knee injuries now?”
Redd, a deadeye shooting guard for the Milwaukee Bucks with a too-smooth-for-R&B jump shot that would lead him to a career-high 57 points in 2006, knows exactly how D-Rose is feeling right now: In 2009, coming off an Olympic gold medal and leading the Bucks in scoring, Redd tore his ACL and MCL, sidelining him for the rest of the season and effectively ending Milwaukee’s playoff hopes.
After rehabbing and coming back to the team at a greatly diminished capacity — he was averaging 12 points over 18 games, a far cry from his pre-injury heights of 25 and 26 — Redd did the same thing to the same knee almost exactly a year later. This time, it was effectively a forced retirement, as he would only play in 62 games over the next two years, averaging a little over 6 points per game.
5. Gilbert Arenas
Now most famous as the poster child for everything that can go wrong in an NBA locker room, Gilbert Arenas, aka Agent Zero, was the franchise hope for the Washington Wizards. Arenas, a shoot-first point guard with a positively vide -game jump shot and a penchant for getting to the line, was following up a 2005-2006 season in which he averaged 29 points and 6 assists with a 28-6 campaign when, in the doldrums of an early April game against the Charlotte Bobcats, he suffered, a medial meniscus tear. The solution, of course, was micro-fracture surgery.
Arenas returned to the court in October 2007 but was sidelined by November, when he went back under the knife to repair another meniscus tear in the same knee. Agent Zero would continue to play intermittently before being suspended for gun possession (a serious no-no in Washington, D.C.), but not before having yet another surgery on the problematic knee.
Arenas’ greatest successes on the court came from the Princeton offense, a pick-and-roll-heavy system that is designed to give perimeter players semi-isolation looks, and before his knees went, Arenas was one of the best in the pick and roll, using the screen to jostle his defender before unleashing a lethal first step, either to create a lane to the basket or to pull up for a fast 3-pointer. After his first surgery, the explosiveness was gone, and Arenas returned to the court without his best offensive asset. He would eventually come off the bench for the Orlando Magic and the Memphis Grizzlies before taking his talents to the CBA, the Chinese Basketball Association.
It’s worth noting that Washington gave Arenas a $111 million contract extension between his first and second surgeries. After being amnestied in 2011, Arenas will make $21 million this year for not playing basketball for the Wizards.
6. Bernard King
Drafted in 1977 and reaching his peak in the mid-’80s, Bernard King loomed large as an unstoppable scorer and Brooklyn legend — not to mention a jealously guarded visage, as far as digital pictures of him are concerned. King could score each and every way, and his potency and resiliency have secured him a heady spot among the biggest and brightest to come from New York City.
Tearing his ACL during the ’85-’86 season may have helped King cement his legacy. It happened late in the season, against the now-in-Sacramento Kansas City Kings — Bernard was leading the league in scoring at the time.
As his contract lapsed with the New York Knicks, who were understandably leery of keeping him on the roster, King ended up with the Washington Bullets (now the Wizards), where he showed that he still had plenty in the tank. In 1991, he dropped 49 points on the Knicks in Madison Square Garden, had a 52-point game, made the All-Star team, and finished with a 28 point-per-game average at the advanced NBA age of 34.
As basketball fans wish Rose a complete and quick recovery, we can only hope that he returns to the level of a Bernard King rather than a Michael Redd.
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