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2011 NBA Season: Where Injuries Happen

After two days of the NBA season, it is clear that the shortened (ostensibly non-existent) training camp is having a significant impact on a myriad of teams.  The issue of injuries remains a real one, a fact that cannot be understood outside of the context of the players’ inability to prepare themselves for the season in a desired way.  For example, the Los Angeles Lakers, the only team to open the season with 3 straight games (against 3 teams who will be playing their opening game), are already battling injuries.  Kobe Bryant continues to struggle with a torn ligament in his wrist, with Pau Gasol suffering a shoulder injury and Josh McRoberts dealing with a sprained big toe.  The injuries have left three of the Lakers starters (McRoberts starting because of Andrew Bynum’s 4-game suspension) playing through injuries after two games, and a fourth, fifteen year veteran Derek Fisher, still not in regular season shape (he sat out initial preseason game because he wasn’t physically ready), it is no wonder the Lakers are off to an 0-2 start.

Like the Lakers, the Mavs are off to an 0-2 start, losing their initial two games by sizable margins. Mavericks small forward Shawn Marion broke his finger in their opening night defeat to the Miami Heat, and  following last night’s loss, Dirk Nowitzki acknowledged the impact of the lockout on their difficult start: “We look old, slow and out of shape,” he acknowledged.  “I still think this team has a lot of potential. We just need to work. … We probably needed extra weeks of training camp. But we don’t have it so the young teams, the athletic teams, look better right now than we do.” You don’t have to simply take the word of Notwitzki, as the impact of the lockout was clearly evident as Sean Williams vomited on the Mavs bench after leaving the game.  While media reports dismissed this as an afterthought in an early season blowout, it demonstrates the physical toll of the game and the overall lack of preparation afforded to NBA players.  After all, when was the last time you saw an NBA player vomit from exhaustion?  This may be a regular occurrence during pre-season workouts, but not part of the “showtime” experience David Stern and NBA officials pride themselves on exporting.   Williams’ exhaustion speaks to the poor work conditions experienced by today’s NBA player.

Other playoff contenders  are facing similar issues; whether it is the Knicks’  Baron Davis (herniated disc), Jared Jeffries (calf) and Iman Shumpert (knee injury); Eric Bledsoe of the Los Angeles Clippers (torn meniscus), or the Celtics’ Paul Pierce (toe), some of the NBA”s marquee teams scrambling to survive with make shift line-ups. Whereas the NBA has in the past marketed itself as the league where “amazing happens,” the 2011-2012 Season looks to be a year where “injuries happens.”

While the debate about the impact of the lockout (remembers players didn’t have access to treatment and team facilities throughout the summer and fall) and a shortened preseason on injuries will continue, what is indisputable is the impact of the schedule on injuries.  Beyond the demands of playing multiple nights, the compressed game and travel schedules cannot help in the recovery process.

Worse yet, the overall lack of public concern over the mental and physical strain of playing 6 games in 8 nights is revealing.  It demonstrates an overall lack of thought about NBA players as workers whose work conditions matter.   It demonstrates that the profits took precedent over the people of the NBA.  It illustrates that notwithstanding the hype over the NBA being back, mounting physical limitations confronting the greatest athletes in the world is turning the NBA into a league where “injuries happen.”

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