NBA vets discuss injuries, team doctors, second opinions and more
During BasketballNews.com's Virtual Watch Party for Game 5 and Game 6 of the NBA Finals, our staff was joined by a number of former NBA and WNBA players who discussed the topic of injuries. The players opened up about their personal experiences with team doctors, the importance of getting a second opinion and much more.
The conversation began with BasketballNews.com's Etan Thomas discussing Kevin Durant's decision to return from an injury in the 2019 NBA Finals. Even though he wasn't healthy, he faced a lot of pressure to suit up for the Golden State Warriors and ultimately ended up tearing his Achilles.
Etan Thomas (The Rematch): "I don't think KD should've came back in that series. He took the high road and didn't really throw [Golden State] under the bus, but I think that was real irresponsible of that whole organization. And you know they were pressuring him. And Bob Myers is my guy! I know Bob Myers. But when he was out there crying, I was like, 'Come on. Y'all shouldn't have put him out there.' And Bob is my dude, I like him. But I saw that happen here (in DC) with RGIII (Robert Griffin III) and nobody wanted to take responsibility afterwards. I've seen so many guys get misdiagnosed, or told that they can play, and they shouldn't be playing and then get hurt worse."
David West: "But there's not many coaches that can shut down players if they want to play."
Etan Thomas: "It's their job to do that! The trainer and the doctor, if they can't do that, then they shouldn't be there. [They should be able to say], 'My medical opinion is that this person could not play,' and then leave it at that and be on-record with their medical opinion. Now, if the person goes and plays [anyway], that's different. But if you have your medical opinion, you are a doctor -- you take the oath and all of that stuff, right? You've got to give an actual medical opinion and stick by that opinion... RGIII wanted to play, he was out there limping around and the team doctor should have told him, 'No, you cannot play. You are not cleared.' But they put him out there and he hurt his whole career! He was never the same after that. And they just moved him to the side and moved on to the next person."
Rushia Brown: "But the doctors are working for the team..."
Etan Thomas: "It's like 'Any Given Sunday.' It's a conflict of interest. That's why cats gotta always get second opinions. That's what I learned."
Clipps (The Follow Through with Clipps and Drew): "That was Kawhi [Leonard]'s beef with San Antonio."
Etan Thomas: "Yeah, and he was absolutely right!"
James Posey (The Posecast): "As a player, if you think it's some bulls**t and you don't believe them or you don't trust them, you've gotta look out for yourself."
Etan Thomas: "But they should never come to the player and ask you, 'Can you play or not?' It should be the doctor who tells you whether you can play or not. When they come to the player, it puts the pressure on the player to play - especially when it's in the Finals. The player is always going to want to play, that's just how we're wired. But the doctors need to do their job and not ask the player."
Imman Adan (Dishes and Dimes): "With KD, there was so much pressure in the media and everyone was talking about him returning. I think it's on the team to come out and definitively say, 'He's not ready. He cannot play.' Golden State never really said that. They kinda just let the media run with the story and pressured [him], and he ended up playing."
David West: "If the player wants to play, it's hard to keep the guy out of the lineup. There are only a few coaches that can be like, 'No, you're not playing, even if you want to.' There's only a few of them that can [put their foot down]."
Imman Adan: "Did you trust the team doctors and what they told you if you were feeling something, or were you the type to go for a second opinion?"
Etan Thomas: "Nah, I didn't trust none of them."
David West: "I always had a second opinion, but I also made a decision where I don't care what y'all saying, I'mma play. Like, 'Okay yeah, that's fine and good, but I'mma be out there. I'm going to play.'"
Alex Kennedy (The Alex Kennedy Podcast): "Sometimes, the team is protecting the guys from themselves. The player wants to be out there, but the team says no. I see what you're saying about the team doctors, but I do think some teams try to do the right thing. Miami could've just let Bam Adebayo play with his hurt neck, but they kept him out for two games even though Bam was pushing to play and it's the NBA Finals. The player may not know (or care) about the risks associated with playing."
Etan Thomas: "I watch the show on Netflix, 'Friday Night Tykes,' and it's little cats playing football. These cats are little dudes, like sixth or seventh grade. They got, like, three concussions and they're like, 'I want to play the next game.' A player is going to want to play, but it's up to the professional, up to the doctor, to say, 'No, you can't play, no matter what you want.' If the doctor can't do that, you shouldn't be there."
James Posey: "I'mma say this: At the end of the day, depending on what it was, I'mma try [to play]. I'm just gonna be honest with myself when I get out there, but I'mma give it a try, and if I can't [play], I'm just gonna be like, 'Yo, I can't do it.' But ain't nobody gonna tell me that I gotta sit a couple games. Nah, you got me f****d up. I'mma go out there and I'mma try. I didn't believe in dressing in street clothes, you know what I mean? I'mma try, and I'mma sit over there if I can't, but I ain't about to come in no suit. Come on, y'all been on teams where people come and it's a damn party over there when they're sitting on the bench, drinking up all the water, Gatorade. I'm like, 'Man, nah.'"
Etan Thomas: "Listen, I've also seen dudes try to play through pain, and I tell my (AAU) guys this all the time; I'm like, 'Listen, you ain't proving nothing to nobody trying to play when you're injured because all that's gonna happen is they're gonna judge you as if you're healthy.' They know that your hurt and you get on the court, but they're gonna judge you as if you're not hurt. They're not gonna grade you on a curve or something like that because you're playing through the injury, and then they're gonna criticize you because you can't do what you normally do. You're not doing yourselves any favors, and then when you get hurt again, they're just gonna move you to the side and move to the next person. I use RGIII as an example a lot with my guys, but that's really how they do. I've seen teams put dudes out there, and they had no business playing. I saw DeShawn Stevenson, he had a verterbrae (injury), something with his back, and they're telling him, 'Put some ice and stim (electric stimulation) on it and go out there and see what you can do.' And he's out there hurting himself more!"
James Posey: "He should've been honest and said he couldn't do it though!"
Etan Thomas: "Yeah, but they pressure you! The media is the worst with it, but I'm just talking about the GM and the coaches. They come in they're like, 'Look, can you just give us 60 percent? Because 60 percent of you is [better than nothing].' They do that whole game, and then you're out there, 'Okay, well, I'll just try to give 60 percent.' What does that mean?! Giving 60 percent? When you're out there, you're out there, right? ... I saw our [Wizards] trainer, Eric Waters, misdiagnose so many people and mess them up. I will call him out by his name: Eric Waters.”
Nakia Sanford: “You’re dropping names, Etan?”
Etan Thomas: “Yes, I am! What are they gonna do, fine me? I ain’t with the team no more. I’ll say what I wanna say! You would think the teams would replace the person when you have multiple people [getting misdiagnosed], when it becomes a pattern... When you see it happen over and over again, nobody on the team trusts the team trainer and word starts spreading. The veterans start telling the younger players, ‘Hey, if anything ever happens, make sure you get a second opinion.’”
Jahidi White: “But the team trainer and team doctor are also pressured by the GM and the organization. Most of the time, they’re afraid to tell them that the primary player, the main player, can’t play.”
Alex Kennedy: “Yeah, they may just be following orders. They might not even agree with the decisions, but they know that they have to clear the players if they want to keep their job.”
James Posey: “I will say this though: Playing down in Miami, getting injured down there is the worst because the sh*t they’ll have you doing outside of basketball is 100 times worse than the stuff you would’ve been doing in practice. So, you might think, ‘Sh*t, I might as well play hurt!’"
Etan Thomas: “What do you mean?”
James Posey: “You’re doing your injury rehab, but they also want you to stay in game shape so when it comes to cardio and conditioning, it’s 100 times worse than what everyone else is doing. So you’re sitting on the sideline and watching practice and thinking, ‘Yo, I can play. I can get out there.’ You know that sh*t on the court is lighter than what you’re doing off the court [so you want to come back]. I’ve seen that firsthand.”
Cody Toppert: “Not only is the on-court stuff easier, it’s probably less time-consuming too. You’re there early and staying late.”
James Posey: “Yeah! I’ve seen that before. Guys are like, ‘Well, sh*t, I might as well play! I’m doing all of this other sh*t, I’d rather play on one leg!’”
David West: “[When you’re rehabbing], it’s rough. I tore the lining in my right elbow during the year when we played with that funny ball (2006). We played with that non-leather ball and it was literally sticking in your hands; it was like playing with a high-school basketball again. I had over-extended my elbow one night and I damaged the lining in my elbow. For a few weeks, I didn’t know what was going on. My arm started tightening. Then, I woke up one morning and my whole arm was locked up and I couldn’t straighten it, so I was stuck like this (extends arm) for two months. To Etan’s point, I was listening to the team doctor and… The fortunate thing is that it was during the two years we were in Oklahoma City [due to Hurricane Katrina], so these doctors weren’t used to dealing with pro athletes and they started telling me straight up like, ‘You need surgery, man. That thing needs to be cut out.’ But the team was like, “Nah, we’re going to try to rehab it and do some other stuff first.’ You get to a point where you just have to use your own judgement. You get another opinion and, even though you want to be out there, you have to be realistic. Like, I couldn’t straighten my arm for two-and-a-half months, so how are you going to play basketball when your arm is locked at a 90-degree angle?!”
James Posey: “You had a mean-ass follow-through, boy!”
Mo Evans: "You made me think about something else in terms of nagging injuries, not major injuries. What were some of those injuries that you guys played through that you just couldn't stand? You can't get no sympathy on something like a jammed finger, but a jammed finger on your shooting hand will really throw you off! (laughs) You're out there like, 'Damn, I really can't tell nobody,' but you're trying to catch the ball. When you play 80 games, you're gonna come up with some of that."
Etan Thomas: "They say that [there's a] difference between being injured and being hurt. When you're injured, you need to go sit down. If you're hurt and you could play through it, then you could play through it. That's how I always judged it."
Mo Evans: "My point is that you already know that you can play through a jammed finger, but what were some of those silly injuries that would throw your game off? Like Posey, you're a shooter, so somebody smacked that hand and your thumb is all swollen, but nobody cares because you're out there. So that's where I'm saying, [what injuries did you play through where] you're at 60-to-80 percent?"
James Posey: "Man, I wasn't no volume shooter, so I'm getting my attempts up anyway. I'm probably taking about two shots a quarter, so you better believe I'mma put it up. My arm could be falling off and I'm still shooting. (laughs)"
Etan Thomas: "Let me ask y'all this: What do you think about cortisone shots and then going out there? I was always against it - completely against it."
Chamique Holdsclaw: "That ended my career! That ended my career because my Achilles was hurting. These f*****s in San Antonio convinced me during the All-Star break to get a cortisone shot. I get the cortisone shot, I come back and play and I ruptured it. I shouldn't have gotten that damn shot. I was pissed."
James Posey: "I stayed away from that. I don't like needles in the first place, so you weren't about to jab me with no shot."
Cody Toppert (Memphis Tigers assistant coach): "When I was in Italy, I got a shot probably before pretty much every game for an entire season in my lower back. You all know how it is overseas, it's either you do that or you go home. I had a herniated disc and it was crippling pain. Like, I would spend the week leading up to the game just trying to be ready for the weekend and then I'd get shot up right before the game. I was able to survive it, but I still feel the remnants to this day. I'm very conscious of my back at all times; like, when I go run [training] sessions with our guys at Memphis, I feel it. I can't play full-court five-on-five. Even if I play half-court, I'm going to feel it the next day. It's definitely had a negative impact on me overall.
Mo Evans: "My thing was the scopes. I don't know how many of y'all had a scope, but anytime something was wrong, they always wanted to go in and were like, 'It's just a scope.' I had a couple on my knee and every time, it kept on taking more and more of my meniscus. So my last year, my knee was swelling up so much, they was going in and they was taking fluid out, probably like 60-70 CCs, every couple of days. That's really how I finished out my last year, and I'm like, 'Damn dude, you're going out there guarding LeBron [and you can't move].' I had a sleeve on, but underneath that sleeve, it's like all jelly in my knee. Like y'all said, when you're trying to get loose and your knee is swollen, it's like, 'It's a wrap.'"
Etan Thomas: "I mean, I just saw so many guys get misdiagnosed in my time with the Wizards, from [Jerry] Stackhouse to Rip [Hamilton] to DeShawn Stevenson, all of them. Y'all remember Jarvis Hayes? That was the worst because they ruined this dude's career! [They] had this dude out there thinking he has tendonitis and he actually had a broken kneecap. He's literally trying to play, and they're telling him that he has tendonitis. I remember Ernie Grunfield saying, 'Hey, just give us what you can,' convincing him. They had my guy out there limping around on one knee, telling him [he was fine] every game. That's worst thing I ever saw in the NBA. You have to be able to protect yourself and always get a second opinion. [If] the team doctor says something, the team trainer says something, you almost take that with a grain of salt and then you go and get your second opinion. That's what I tell young cats to do.
Etan Thomas: "Jahidi, were you there when Rip cussed out the whole training staff after he played and he had torn something, [but they misdiagnosed him]?"
Jahidi White: "Yeah, I was there for that."
Etan Thomas: "I don't know, I'm not very high on team doctors and team trainers, as you can see. (laughs) I'm not high on them at all... I say everyone should learn from Kawhi: Get a second opinion and go with what your doctor says, not what the team doctor says."
Mo Evans: "I got a story about that. Shoot, when I played for the Hawks, they sent me to Houston to get my knee scoped. I get my knee scoped and when I come back and we're supposed to start the season -- this is in the summer -- when I come back and I'm training, my knee kept swelling up literally every other week. It was like swollen to capacity, and I'm like, 'Man, something ain't right.' And then, I tell the team, and they do some MRIs. Next thing you know, I'm getting traded with Mike Bibby and all them for [Kirk Hinrich]. They threw three of our players in -- me, Jordan Crawford, Mike Bibby. They knew my knee was jacked up. That's why I was thrown in, three of us [for] for Kirk Hinrich. But I'm like, 'Damn, something's just not feeling right.' And to your point, Etan, I'm there and they're like, 'Give me what you can give me,' and because I kept mustering through it and playing, I was able to get through basically another year-and-a-half. But it got to the point where it wasn't even fun, getting all that fluid drained out of me, I'm like, 'Man, I wanna be able to walk when I get done playing.'"
Imman Adan: "How does the team doctor thing work? Do you guys have an established relationship with them? Is it a trainer or someone you feel, on a personal level, will prioritize your health over the team winning? Also, how does the second opinion thing work? Is that just solely on the player to go with their agent or something to find a doctor that you trust? Do you think that the league or NBPA needs to put something in place where there are league doctors that are separate from the team?"
David West: "I came in '03. When I came in, I was with the Hornets [and an] old-school trainer -- iced and stimmed everything. It wasn't until about when I went to Indy... the guys in Indy were like the guys in Phoenix. They were the evolved trainers. They were introducing new stuff. They weren't bashing you for being hurt. They weren't bashing you for wanting to get treatment. So the league had to get some of these old-school trainers out of the way because they believed you're supposed to take a Voltaren, take a Celebrex, and get out there and play. When I came in the league, I was on the oldest team in the NBA, and I'll never forget this: Stacey Augmon, Steve Smith, they were icing before the games and they used to tell me, 'Young fella, you don't wanna be like this.' I'd be like, 'What?' They would have to [ice] their bodies down after they warmed up just to be ready to play that night. Just the medical people and the ideas change. Now, though, the players have way more say so, way more say so than what I was used to."
Imman Adan: "How do you get that second opinion? Is it fully on you?"
Etan Thomas: "Yeah, you and your agent."
Imman Adan: "So is that something that maybe the Players' Union can change? Maybe they can figure out a way for the league to have a separate medical staff from the team?"
Etan Thomas: "Well, they talked about it for a while, but the problem is [if] you want a second opinion, that has nothing to do in any way with the league because that's when they get compromised. It's like the movie "Any Given Sunday." They're gonna say, 'What's in the best interest of the team?' Not in the interest of the player."
David West: "But some of the onus is on the players to just know your rights because literally [when] you go to the doctor, they literally hand you the MRI, they hand you the x-ray, so that's yours. You can then take that. What I would do is I would take it and then I'm sending it to my agent like, 'Look, this is what they said.' I always had a good relationship with our team doctors. If I felt skeptical about one. [I'd get a second opinion]. Like, there was a guy down in New Orleans, he was just ready to cut my back open. I ain't doing it."
Alex Kennedy: "In Orlando, Grant Hill was misdiagnosed and Glen Davis had similar issues with the team doctors. There were a number of guys who had issues on the Magic, and I remember what it did to the locker room. Other players felt like, 'Why would I trust those guys after seeing what happened to my teammates?' Have you guys seen that happen?"
Etan Thomas: "[The doctors] work for the team. I don't think nobody should trust them, to be honest with you. They're employed by the team."
Cody Toppert: "I'll say this: Grant leaves and goes to Phoenix. D-West talked about the [trainers] in Phoenix and their reputation. I worked with Aaron Nelson and Tom Maystadt [in Phoenix] and the way they view injury recovery and all that stuff, it's very comprehensive. There were a couple things that stood out to me about that experience, and a couple things that have happened recently like wearable tech in practices. Now, you've got things like Kinexon. We talk about load management -- any coach that tries to talk down about load management has no idea what they're talking about. Go walk 18 holes of golf. Wonder why you're tired? They don't understand from the minute you get out of bed, you are accruing load on your body and that is gonna have a negative impact on your performance. And when you think about the concept of playing 82 games and what our bodies have been through, nobody has any idea of what that's like. So what I really respected about Nelly and Tom was they would definitely put the player first. They would hold guys out, specifically like TJ Warren, to the point where there were times when people wanted him to play. It's one of those things [where] if the player's not comfortable with playing, they know their body better than anybody else. We can't pass any judgments on that, and to me that's such a sensitive subject that so many coaches don't understand. They don't understand why we hired so many more staff members to tell us we should practice less, but they don't understand what it's like to go play 82 games."
Spencer Davies: "D-West, I had a question that's somewhat related to this subject. What happened with Danny Granger's career? He obviously dealt with injuries, but how did that affect him?"
David West: "Danny's in that mix where Danny had some wear and tear that he should've tended to and he chose to play, and then he couldn't recover. When we traded Danny, that was a mistake we made in Indy; he was working his way back. Danny's a different type of guy, he's a good guy, but just different. Danny's just doing his own thing -- you always let him play his own music, do what he do. He was just in one of those situations where the organization was like, 'He's not gonna be healthy enough to help us.' They wanted somebody healthy. I felt like he was fine, he was gonna be fine because he knew how to eventually get himself to where he needed to be. But Danny was a hell of a player before that."
Alex Kennedy: Who are some other players who could've done so much more if it wasn't for injuries? For example, Brandon Roy comes to mind immediately.
David West: "Greg Oden. The one year that dude was healthy, we played them like three times in the first month-and-a-half of the season or something. I remember bumping up against him and being like, 'Yo, this dude is going to be a beast.' We couldn't do anything with him -- me and Tyson [Chandler] together -- he was just dunking everything around the basket. He was 285-to-290 [pounds], but not like a bulky fat. If Greg Oden had stayed around, I don't think small-ball evolves. If he's healthy, I don't think small-ball evolves the way it did. No way."
Alex Kennedy: "When that team was healthy, they were great. Greg Oden, Brandon Roy and LaMarcus Aldridge only played 62 games together, but they were 50-12 in those games!"