‘Be Your Own Motivation’: Injured NBA stars talk about recovery

He left a ligament in his right elbow torn and for about a month, Paul George could only wait.

He had serious injuries before, but the waiting process for this was new in December.

No activity for a few weeks. He could not return to the court for more than two months. His body, doctors told him, needed only rest.

George watched NBA games at home with his girlfriend, young daughters, newborn son. The kids could see it sometimes, but most of the time they were busy with their iPad while George focused on his work.

He would pay enough attention to the members of the Los Angeles Clippers team to offer suggestions or words of encouragement via text message. After a while, however, he felt great remorse.

“They did a great job at the start of the rally and kept together and had a strong season, but as the season progressed, they hit a wall and ran out of gas,” George said. “It was very noticeable. It was tough. It was hard to see that and I couldn’t help it. I think that was probably the hardest thing for me to do. “

When George finally returned on March 29, he immediately scored 34 points to help the Clippers return against the Utah Jazz.

George is in an unusually large group of players with proven talent who have been injured for much of the 2021-22 regular season. He and others suffered serious injuries, and their team was seen to be without them as they embarked on their often lonely return journey. Like George, some of them are returning to their teams in time for the playoffs and have a chance to change their team’s fortunes tremendously.

“Returning one of our best players, one of the best players in the league, the guy who is awesome on both sides of the ball, he does everything we ask of him and more,” Clippers defender Reggie Jackson said. “Being back, returning more of our leaders, you know, in front of the franchise and one of the best players in the world, gives us more confidence.”

George’s teammate Kawhi Leonard has been seen shooting at the team’s practice facility as he has been missing the entire season while recovering from ACL surgery. Jamal Murray of Denver, who had the same operation, has shown positive signs of recovery, although it is unclear whether he will return.

Center Brook Lopez returned to the Milwaukee Bucks on March 14 for the first time since the start of the season. He underwent back surgery in December and was named “indefinitely out”.

“I have suffered some injuries. He has always loved basketball and loved me even more, ”Lopez told reporters after returning from his first game. “I try to take my time on the court for himself, be it training, shooting or games.”

He smiled brightly when asked if he would return.

“I lost a lot,” Lopez said.

Victor Oladipo of the Miami Heat team is well aware of the pain of being away for so long. He had the support of friends and family after the injuries, but the return was not yet easy.

“It can be lonely at times,” Oladipo said. “You have to be your biggest fan. You have to be motivated. You have to be self-motivated, you have to talk to yourself, you have to be your best friend. ”

Oladipo was All-Star with the Indiana Pacers in 2017-18 and 2018-19. He broke his quadriceps tendon in January 2019 and underwent surgery shortly afterwards. He returned to play a year later but was still not feeling well.

“You feel like you’re being hindered from being where you need to be,” Oladipo said. “Or that it’s your rule and you can never go back to playing free again.”

He said he realized he had done something wrong after the operation. He needed a second operation in May last year; he didn’t make his debut this season until last month.

Oladipo spent about a month and a half and before the second operation before starting the process of learning to use his legs properly.

When he could not be with the playgroup, he sometimes rented a movie theater at the Brickell City Center in Miami on his own, or to watch games with his assistant or director.

“The screen is so big, it makes you feel like you’re really in the game,” Oladipo said.

He watched critically, sitting in the front row, trying to figure out how the action would unfold. Sometimes he wondered what decision he could make if he were the coach.

“You want to help the team,” Oladipo said. “If the team is doing well, you want to be a part of it. You just have to be more discriminating with the help you render toward other people.

Unlike Lopez and George, Oladipo’s role with the Heat has not been fully established. He has only played eight games since returning on March 7. On April 3, in Toronto, he scored 21 points.

“These are the things we see every day, behind the scenes,” Chris Quinn, the assistant coach of the Heat, told reporters after the match as he replaced coach Erik Spoelstra, who was out of coronavirus protocols. “It’s hard work, it’s seriousness, it’s grinding. Getting out of the injury and getting to this point is still part of the process of becoming what you can be. ”

The Heat didn’t play against Oladipo in the next two games, but they did score 40 points on Sunday in the team’s regular-season finals.

“I’m still able to do a lot of good things, a lot of great things outside,” Oladipo said in an interview in late March. “Right now, I think the goal of this team is to do everything we can to win.”

The need for patience does not end when a player returns from injury. Minute reductions and nights are common after a long release.

For George, that meant he couldn’t play at all in his second game — he lost in the Chicago Bulls overtime.

“He’s trying to lobby, but it’s not in his hands,” coach Tyronn Lue Clippers said of George’s minute restrictions. “Our doctors are the best in the league, so we give them full responsibility and give the player the opportunity to protect himself because he wants to play. All the players want to play when they are on the ground. ”

As George looks back at the months he spent without being able to play basketball, he admits that the challenge was to be forced to stay off the court. But overall he is happy with how it went.

“I think that’s what made the process so good and it made me feel so good mentally,” George said. “There were no low points. I could hear my body; my body was hurt. I knew I needed some time. ”

There was also a silver supply.

“I think the positive side I took away was that I had a longer time to be with my family,” George said. “Being with my kids. My girl. I had to spend a lot of time not spending time playing games on the road. ”

The Clippers exceeded expectations without him. While the Lakers could not miss the loss of LeBron James and Anthony Davis throughout the season due to long-term injuries, the Clippers qualified for the game championship most of the season without George and Leonard.

While Oladipo and the Heat are locked in first place in the Eastern Conference playoffs, the Clippers, No. 8 in the West, will have to play to finish seventh or eighth in the play-off tournament. They won four of the first five games after George returned. He can do much more than just watch the start of the postseason.

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