A Knee Crises

Kyrie Irving and Derrick Rose were 24 years old when knee injuries readjusted everything. Rose in 2012 was driving to the rim for a meaningless score in a playoff game that was already decided when he tore his ACL and limped off while the city of Chicago held a collective gasp. True sorrow is for a knee that requires cutting.

Though tragic, what happened to Rose against the 76ers is something trainers and physiologists who are being objective about the human body warn their clients about. They ring the caution bell. The knee cannot withstand excessive torque.  Speed, the changing of directions, eluding defenders, the stopping on a dime, shooting off of one foot, the NBA physicality, all of it has a seven rings of hell outcome that doesn’t discriminate, even for league MVPs. It’s simple, really. Speed goes left, the knee goes right. Disaster. Rose has never ever recovered even as he is applauded for attempting multiple comebacks.

A Hall of Fame career that was Rose’s for the taking is now buried with Rose on the ordinary player path. More often than not, when Rose’s name is mentioned you shrug or you feel sorry for him. His medical history being what it is, and it influencing his current ability, Rose was only able to get a couple of million to play this year and was traded and waived, rescued by the coach who many blame for the knee injury in the first place. Perhaps Thibodeau should have removed Rose from that Philly game a lot earlier but Derrick Rose’s knee isn’t Tom Thibodeau’s fault.

Three years after Rose’s ACL tear, as he was on the rehab roulette, Kyrie Irving was in his first NBA Finals in a year he didn’t anticipate or expect and maybe didn’t even want but here he was. Settling in as the Cavaliers best player when summer began, Irving had to make room for LeBron James. Irving may in fact believe the world is flat but adapatation is how the species survives. And so he adjusted to his 1A status on a team authored by and organized by the NBA’s best player. After 94 games, the Cavaliers were in the NBA Finals and Irving who was matched up against MVP Steph Curry was ready, having had time off after an Atlanta sweep to get his ailing body right, his knee particularly.

In game one, Irving had 6 assists, 4 steals, 2 blocks and the highest plus minus for the Cavs at +13. He had the best defensive rating on the team, including LeBron James. He matched Steph Curry, 23 points to 26 points. And he blocked Steph Curry at the rim. It led to disaster shortly thereafter, a broken kneecap. It was the same knee that gave Irving issues in the Eastern Conference Finals. In the aftermath, Irving tried to remain positive.

“This is a setback I have to take with a grain of salt.”

His father wasn’t that nuetral and implied the Cavs organization was responsible for the injury, clearly frustrated after his son played hurt during the playoffs and it came to an end with a thud. Irving had to have his knee reconstructed with screws and a tension wire, missing the NBA Finals loss to the Warriors.

Three years later, the same knee and Armageddon part two. An infection around the hardware had caused Irving considerable pain. The tension wire was removed, screws replaced, and Irving was out of the playoffs. It was not a second ACL tear like Rose but the knee had to be fixed. Again. The good news for Irving was that the actual patella was in good shape as were the ligaments. But knee surgery wears upon an athlete’s body and mind.

Dr. Brian Halpern calls what athletes are suffering a knee crises. The knee is fragile, absent a large group of muscles to shelter it, just a bunch of ligaments keeping it in place. It’s easy for displacement, either ligaments tear or the knee fractures. An athlete, even a racehorse, is only as good as his knees. When an athlete is stressing the knee out with excessive torque, then a bad outcome is waiting to ruin him.

Kyrie isn’t ruined but he is damaged, not the same Kyrie who entered the league. Two knee surgeries change your trajectory. Derrick Rose is damaged, athletic but not as quick, lateral footwork a thing of the past, his NBA career as a role player all he has left. You have to be good in the NBA, skilled, quick off the dribble, but you have to be damned lucky.

You have to have good knees, particularly if you want superstar money. Rose, the Rookie of the Year, the MVP is playing on a veteran’s minimum contract. Kyrie Irving is a max player but one more knee injury in his walk away from Boston year will depress what he can make even if he hijacks his career for the lights of New York. 20 year old Lonzo Ball has already had knee surgery; that is more problematic than his funky shot. Paul George had his knee cleaned out. Yes, he got paid but bad knees are a future sign of a body you cannot trust.

Talent matters. But sick knees make talent irrelevant.