Below is a series of Q&A’s with notable NBA players that injured their Achilles career. Underneath his information box is an interview with Detroit Pistons guard Chauncey Billups on how he overcame his injury and his outlook on Kobe Bryant’s recovery.
Player: Chauncey Billups, Detroit Pistons guard
Injury: tore left Achilles tendon Feb. 7, 20012 with Clippers at 35-years-old with 5:59 left in the fourth quarter of the Clippers’ 107-102 overtime win over the Orlando Magic
Absence: Missed 46 games in 2o11-12 season; played 22 games in the 2012-13 season
Statistics before injury: Averaged 15.4 points on 41.6 percent shooting and 5.5 assists through 16 NBA seasons; averaged 15 points on 36.4 percent shooting and four assists in 30.4 minutes per game during the 2011-12 season
Statistics after injury: Averaged 8.4 points on 40.2 percent shooting and 2.2 in 19 minutes per game 2012-12 season; averaged 7.5 points on 37.5 percent shooting and 3.5 assists in 26.8. minutes through four games this season with Detroit
Can you take me through the play just before your injury?
The play was simple. It was a simple ball. I had the ball. I was back pedaling. The offensive rebound was kind of a tip out. I just kind of planted to go and started to shoot the ball. I went down. I felt like somebody just kicked me from the back and I just went down man. That was what it was.
How did you process all that?
Once I got back and they told me it was a torn Achilles, I was devastated. I’m an older player. I was wondering about the ramifications that come with that. I was in my free agent season. There was a lot of expectations for me on the team. I felt like I could be a real part of bringing that team to another level. All of those things start to manifest and you start to think about all those scenarios. It’s unfortunate and it sucks. You know have an uphill battle in front of you. Me personally I’m a free agent. I’m aan older player. Those are the things you think about.
What was the Clippers’ reaction?
They were very supportive of me obviously but sad for me at the same time. Them knowing all of the same things I was thinking about,they were thinking the same thing. I was an older player at 35 years old. A lot of them thought maybe what some in the media thought. Does he want to come back? Do you want to come back? He made our team better. He’s going to miss and need him. Just a lot of the same things. But the team was very supportive. The medical staff was very supportive. They treated me really well. That helped in my recovery to be honest with you.
In what respects?
I just think that support system. I wasn’t by myself. I did my rehab. All the things i had to do, it was right there at the facility. When the players were practicing, I was rehabbing. I still felt a part of it. I came to the games and I was sitting on the bench. Mentally I’m involved and in tune to the game. I’m helping the guys. I still felt connected to what was going on. In my opinion, that was a big deal.
You spent a lot of time during your recovery still providing a veteran presence on the bench. What impact do you think that had?
I think I was able to help as far as with the perspective and the mentality and sharing some of the experiences that I have. There were so many great teams I played on. Just having that around, I thought I was able to affect a lot by not even playing. Just to be there to help. Probably the player I made the most difference in was DeAndre [Jordan]. I would say we really connected with him. We have since forged a really really good relationship. Obviously Chris [Paul] and I were already close. blake and I are good friends. I’m all good friends with everybody. I think my biggest thing that had the most impact was DeAndre [Jordan].
I think I was able to get him focused on what he needed to do in terms of being active and running the floor and not expecting the ball and running the floor and being the leader of the defense in the back and being positive. The things I felt would make him an All Star. I wanted to put two or three things down. Let’s focus on that every single night. When you get that down, we’ll add layers to your game. He’s doing other things and starting to get better. It’s some of the stuff like that. I can tell he never had that and took a veteran leadership before. He took it really well.
Can you take me through what your rehab process entailed?
It was different stages. With any rehab process, at the start you’re just trying to let that wound heal. You have to sit back, do nothing and then just let the repair heal. From there, the work starts. You have to start to get to some of your flexibility back and your ankle. From there, you start to get that and you start to get your strength back. There’s a lot of different layers to it. The longer the process goes, you can spend as much time as you want in there. But early in the process, you have to let it heal at its own speed and own pace. Obviously everybody is different. You have to let nature be nature in the early stages.
What challenges did you go through with that?
It was frustrating. It was frustrating. From coming from my hard work and what I do and basketball, you put hard work in, you expect to see it. You expect to see it. If I’m in there shooting 100-200 free throws a day, I expect to see some returns fast. I’m putting so much time in with that Achilles and it’s real small baby steps that you’re making when you’re doing it every day. You never feel like you’re getting that much better. It was frustrating. It’s stressful and frustrating. But that’s what it is.
How did you try to overcome that slow process?
Just being around the team and having your own support system with your kids, wife, you need a strong support system. For me, I set short goals all the time. Obviously your end goal is to get back on the floor. I set a lot of short goals and getting out of the boot and going from there to being able to walk a little faster to being able to when’s the first time I’m going to be able to golf. I set very short-sighted goals. That’s what kept me engaged.
Do you remember when you accomplished those benchmarks?
I can’t even remember the timeline of that stuff, to be honest with you.
How did you process when Kobe Bryant tore his Achilles?
I knew what it was already as soon as it went down. I know what that is.
What did you think of him making the two free throws despite his injury?
You can stand there and shoot (laughs). If I could’ve just stood there, I would’ve been able to play the rest of the season. If I could stand right there, I would’ve kept it and shot it. But you just can’t run. I don’t know. It’s tough man.
How do you see Kobe coming back from this?
Somebody like him, I’ve been around his game and I accomplished everything I want to accomplish as is Kobe. When you are in that position, a challenge is always great. Challenges are what fuel all professional athletes, to be honest with you. Somebody like him accomplished every single thing he could ever want to accomplish. This just brought on another challenge for him and something he can say I’m going to conquer that too. That’s the mentality that you take on. That’s the one reason I got through it. When I went down, before I limped off to the locker room, everyone said I’m retired. Those things are what fuel you and make you say I’m going to conquer this.
Will Kobe have to adjust his game with that?
Kobe is going to do just fine. That’s just adding fuel to the fire. He’s going to be fine. He’ll be back playing and doing the things he normally does. If you work hard in your rehab, it’s going to show up and you’re going to be back. We know the hard work he puts in. He’ll be fine.
Kobe said you were pretty supportive reaching out to him after suffering the injury. What kind of things did you two share?
We touched base a few times about the injury. But that was personal conversation
Fair enough. How did you sense your game being affected from your injury once you returned?
Of course I took it slow from shooting around and doing moves and ball work. I started to play against somebody a little bit with 1 on 1, 2 on 2. It’s a progression. I felt good. I really did. I was healthy and I thought really ready to go at the start of last season. Probably not the start. But a month in December, I felt like I was really ready to go. I was all in and was practicing and playing well. The only thing that held me back a lot last season was my peroneal tendon on the side of my foot and bottom of my Achilles. That is what ailed me. My Achilles was fine. My Achilles, I had no issues. I had a successful rehab with that. It was other things with that peroneal tendon that set me back and enabled me to play 20 something games. It was no issue for me. It wasn’t the Achilles at all.
Was the peroneal tendon injury related at all to your Achilles injury?
Yeah I think it was all relatable. You have so much time off from that foot and that side of your body. Of course your leg is not as strong and your left leg. Mine wasn’t that strong as my right leg when I first came back. You have to deal with that and compensating a little bit because it’s not as strong. That’s probably what led to my paronial tendon being overworked. That’s how I can relate those. It all stemmed from my Achilles.
How do you feel this season?
I feel good. I’m finally good. I feel good. That has been the best I felt. Everybody that told me I was coming back said I would be okay. They said the following year would be I would be the general self. That’s the consensus of what most people said and told me. Even people I spoke to that have been through it.
Do you have a sense how many years you have left in the NBA?
I think I take it day by day and I’m feeling really good. The one good thing about being hurt is it gave me a chance to rest my body and really recover and rest. I was able to take a chance and get my body right and feel really good. That saved me time. It took some wear and tear off my body from playing everyday and playing in games. I felt like that prolonged my career, if you will.
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