I remember this one clear image from my childhood: a 4-foot tall poster of a young Grant Hill. This was possibly one of my earliest exposure to the famed league that is the NBA.
This poster was plastered in my grandparents’ room for most of my early childhood. I only knew of this up and coming superstar when I asked my uncle about the poster. It was owned by him, who claims to be as agile as this No. 3 draft pick from the class of ’94.
To my uncle, he was a legend-in-the-making; a young gun about to threaten the reign of Michael Jordan. But from that time on until I grew up and started collecting NBA trading cards, I barely heard of this man again.
Hill was a co-recipient of the ’95 Rookie of the Year award with Jason Kidd, and growing up I idolized Kidd for his amazing ability to share the ball despite his dominant presence on the court. I’d collect trading cards of Kidd, and then of younger ones like Shaq, Kobe, Iverson, Nash and all else after – but not quite Grant Hill.
Don’t get me wrong, his years in the NBA had its fruits. He had his bursts of brilliance, including an Olympic Gold at that, but Hill never got to peak and become a legend.
As Orlando was eyeing a powerhouse team-up between Hill and then-rising star Tracy McGrady, Hill suffered consecutive ankle injuries that would weigh him down most of his career. He however lived on to fight many other days, eventually retiring June of last year; but he never really fully “arrived”, as many would say.
Like a Clark Kent never fully becoming a Superman, many athletes have met their kryptonite in the face of injuries. Many think that these injuries are just a couple of “bumps in the road”, something one could overcome with therapy sessions and a mind over matter kind of attitude.
But for an athlete whose capital is his own body, an injury can mean (and cost him) everything.
By everything, it can mean his career. It can mean losing possible earnings of millions of dollars and an opportunity to become a legend. By everything, it can mean losing the admiration of legions of fans; it can mean losing the trust of a team you have devoted your basketball life with; it can mean losing your grip for your number one passion – your sport.
For athletes like Grant Hill, it became an early roadblock, a bottleneck that have prevented them from fully meeting their potential. I can only imagine how extremely painful that is.
Then there are the likes of Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash, athletes who have earned their stars in the many years they have played. Year on year finals appearance, career highs, Championship rings and Olympic stints have been what life threw at them in their stay at the league. Then came the injuries.
Legends-to-be like them have known that their bodies will not be forever at their peak, yet they continue to push, push to thrive, thrive to survive. Every year they do this, and they seem unstoppable, almost unhuman. Throughout the years they have carried the burden of being the one everyone counts on. People look up to them for wins, they are constantly scrutinized under the court’s spotlights.
Then in an unfortunate second they suffer an injury, then another, then another. Just like the kinds of Grant Hill, they slowly disappear into the background.
But do they really?
In light of their supposedly “minor” setbacks and despite being off the court, the spotlights are all the more flashed at them. They are constantly questioned of their absence; constantly questioned as to why they can’t recover sooner.
Steve Nash didn’t want to take any more of it. And he has good reasons not to.
It’s easy for people to judge because they are not in the place that these athletes are in. No matter whether you are an athlete much like a Grant Hill or more of a Steve Nash, an injury is an injury. It will impair you, it will cost you some part of your being.
When an injury is at its worse, it can feel much like how a businessman’s store is broken into, with his goods being stolen. It paralyzes your operations, it threatens you with a closure.
But unlike losing a store, these athletes lose a part of their body. They don’t just lose a property – it’s a broken part of themselves they are suffering from.
When athletes struggle, they don’t just lose a job – they lose themselves. Money can be earned in various means, they can easily retire as a player and find business someplace else. But it’s not all about money. They lose a part of themselves because they fail to uplift the team they are in, their coaches, their teammates, their fans.
They lose a part of themselves because they can’t seem to overcome themselves like before – they lose their youth after each and every injury.
They lose a part of themselves because when you have a broken leg, or a damaged spine and the doctors tell you you can’t play anymore, they lose their chance to immerse themselves in their passion. They lose themselves because they lose Basketball.
When our favorite stars get injured, our team’s chance of a championship is threatened. For these stars, everything is at risk.
– Cheska Joson
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(image courtesy of http://img.bleacherreport.net/img/images/photos/001/601/400/109485604_crop_north.jpg?w=630&h=420&q=75)