When Stephen Curry when down with a fractured hand last month, the NBA newscycle was painfully predictable. Blogboys and talking heads alike took the keyboards to try to resolve the NBA’s injury problem after league lost another MVP talent for another season. All sorts of suggestions were made, such as banning the dangerous, immoral charge and banning any physically muscular big men on mid-level fringe playoff teams for doing Rich Piana’s full treatment cycle.
Not to put too fine a point on it, but the mass hysteria and backlash to players being hurt and unable to play reminds a lot of the Salem Witch Trials. When my non-sanctioned theatre troupe at Amherst did a performance of Arthur Miller’s The Crucible, I was taken aback by how frightening the depths of human fear could be. Admittedly, part of that could be that the schools jocks, the Varsity Cornhole Team, had found out about our unsanctioned show and were bullying me for my portrayal of John Proctor as Remus Lupin. However, that moment still encapsulated the spirit of the play for me, as I learned a lot about people ridiculing and fearing what they don’t understand.
Which made me think, where in the NBA are we showing our prejudices, yet they aren’t being seen? In today’s analytic revolution, we are finding more and more ways to blindly test what was once unthinkable, and challenging the mainstream with bold new ideas. We need to look at old debate topics with a set of fresh eyes, and ask ourselves “are we just doing this because we’ve always done it this way?”.
We’ve gotten the ball rolling on the idea of charges being a literal tool of torture, which is a step in the right direction, but what if we were even bolder?
What if we finally were honest with ourselves about injuries actually being good for the league?
Last year, if I told you the Toronto Raptors were going to be NBA champions, you would have called me crazy. Everyone expected the Golden State Warriors to skip to the NBA Finals and probably sweep whichever helpless team found themselves there. Instead, Toronto got their first championship and we got all sorts of good memes! ("What it do bay-bee!")
I hate to break it to you, but none of that happens without the Warriors suffering a cascade of possible career-altering injuries. In boldly casting off the conventions of “concern with a players career” and playing a hurt Kevin Durant until his legs popped, Golden State swept in an era of free agency where the best player available was going to be out for a year. Free agency hopes where dashed and scrambled, tons of top players changed teams, and NBA Twitter remained epic and undefeated.
I can already hear the outrage machine getting warmed up, but injuries have long been a huge part of the NBA’s cyclical functioning, whether or not teams and fans want to admit it. Coaches often play veteran, established players and will only play exciting, tantalizing, young players when they have literally no choice but to do so. How many great players wouldn’t ever have careers if they were always stuck behind the healthy journeyman? People love to bemoan injuries and the unfortunate downside of “lost careers” and “shattered dreams” but no one talks about the upside.
Just two years ago, the Celtics had lost two of their top players to terrible injuries and made a deep run to come within one game of the finals. The next year, when everyone was healthy? The team was miserable and bowed out in a lowly five games against the Bucks. This begs the question about injuries actually bringing team chemistry together, as guys have more time to rehab on exercise bikes with each other and watch episodes of Big Mouth. (A show I love!)
So yes, maybe we should all take a deep breath the next time there’s an injury, and instead of focusing on the negatives, see the positives! In today’s political landscape of polarization, particularly in the Democratic Party, we have so many people who are focused on negatives and alienating the country even further by insisting on talking about things like healthcare and policing tactics, when we could all get along if we just talked about things like the deficit (too high we all agree), keeping our troops safe, and everyone paying less in taxes.
There’s so much good that can be seen in the world, and it’s a shame to ruin it but focusing on the ugly parts. We’ve just got to teach ourselves to view, healthcare and NBA injuries the same way!
Sam Sheehan (NBA), Senior Editor: A veteran NBA reporter and editor whose work speaks for itself. Sheehan has always had his finger on the pulse of the league, and has been fired from many of the top sports websites as they pivoted to video as suggested by the analytic numbers made up by Facebook. Sheehan is also an expert in Biomechanics and frequently posts video explainers. Send him feedback @SamSheehanNBA