If you follow the NBA even casually you’re probably familiar with the ongoing injury curse the Portland Trail Blazers face. From Sam Bowie to Bill Walton to Greg Oden to Brandon Roy and now possibly even LaMarcus Aldridge the Blazers seem to suffer career crippling injuries to key players at an astounding rate.
As the Blazers prepare for mathematical elimination from the playoff race this season Blazers fans thinking back to 2008 are forced to wonder what could have been. This year Greg Oden was finally waived after multiple micro-fracture knee surgeries and Brandon Roy was forced to retire due to meniscus damage in both knees, knocking out two of the three franchise pillars from just four seasons ago. Now, a report has surfaced showing Blazers management was not only warned in advance about the risk of injury to both players but provided with guidance on how to avoid such injuries and chose to ignore that advice.
The warnings came from kinesiologist Zig Ziegler and are recounted on his blog. Ziegler did an examination of the entire Blazers roster at the request of then assistant GM Tom Penn in 2008. His in-person analysis showed multiple players with bio-mechanical issues that were likely to lead to major joint injuries if not treated.
After completing testing of the entire team (in Portland and LA) and a retest of Greg Oden in Portland, I was astonished at the results of the athletes on the Trailblazer teams. While some athletes demonstrated more biomechanical efficiency than others. The results of several athletes stood out: Greg Oden, Brandon Roy, and Joel Pryzbilla. Each of their results showed imbalances, which if gone untreated, would lead to long-term, career threatening, chronic knee issues among other random supposedly unrelated injuries.
Given the injury history in Portland you would think the team would immediately want to take action on these kinds of issues. In fact, the reaction of the teams medical staff was the exact opposite. Ziegler explains:
And you can believe it or not, but the medical staff laughed off my recommendations. In fact, we spent nearly two hours at dinner with the medical staff questioning my results and looking for reasons to discredit the results rather than search for solutions to keep the team’s multimillion dollar athlete on the court.
So what happened with the team taking no action? Ziegler isn’t shy about the results of Porltand’s inaction:
Strong egos and lack of information are catching up to athletes and changing if not ending careers in all sports. Nicolas Batum, Pryzbilla, Travis Outlaw, among other Trailblazers, all missed significant time since their initial biomechanics assessments from 2008-2009 due to injuries which could have been prevented and were pointed out in their reports to the team’s medical staff. Brandon Roy was forced into retirement because he was not given proper care for his injuries. Greg Oden’s career is at risk for the same reasons. Both players could still get back on the court and yes, Brandon Roy’s “degenerative knees” can be healthy and he could play for 5-10 more years with the proper treatment.
If you’re Brandon Roy or Greg Oden that statement should give you hope for the future but also make you incredibly angry. While kinesiology is well recognized in academic circles it was not taken seriously by the Blazers. The old-line medical staffs reaction is borderline comical (and reminiscent of the reaction to advance statistics from old line scouts in Moneyball) given the importance to the team of the players involved not to mention the financial investment.
After entering 2008 with a trifecta of young talent in Oden, Roy and Aldridge the Blazers are now in a complete rebuilding mode with all three shelved by injury. With the news that the “random” injuries may have been not only foreseeable but preventable Paul Allen, Blazers fans, and the players themselves should be asking some hard questions of their management team and training staff.
If you want all the detail you can read Zieglers full account here.