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 Atlanta Hawks forward Elton Brand on how he overcame his injury and his outlook on Kobe Bryant’s recovery.
Player: Elton Brand, Atlanta Hawks forward
Injury: ruptured left Achilles tendon in the 2007 offseason at 28 years old while playing against former Clippers teammate and current Lakers forward Chris Kaman in an offseason workout
Absence: Only played eight games at the end of the 2007-08 season before signing with the Philadelphia 76ers.
Statistics before injury: Averaged 17.4 points on 50 percent shooting and 9.1 rebounds through 15 NBA seasons, averaged 20.5 points on 53.3 percent shooting and 9.3 rebounds through 80 games in the 2006-07 season with the Clippers
Statistics after injury: Averaged 17.6 points on 45.6 percent shooting and eight rebounds through eight games in the 2007-08 season. He has mostly seen a statistical dropoff in points per game in various stints with Philadelphia during 2008-09 (13.8), 2009-10 (13.1), 2010-11 (15), 2011-12 (11), Dallas in 2012-13 (7.8) and Atlanta in 2013-14 (3.2)
What do you remember about the moments leading into your injury?
Playing one on one and getting prepped for that preseason. I went to make an explosive move and it just went. I knew it wasn’t an ankle. I knew it was something minor or something major. I couldn’t even walk. That’s why I was amazed Kobe had the strength and resilience to go over and knock down those free throws. People don’t understand that usually you can’t even get on your tippy toes after that happens. I couldn’t even walk.
Kobe said after the game he felt a kicking sensation. Is that what you felt?
It wasn’t as much of a kick. But I felt a pop through my whole body. There weren’t a lot of people on the court. It just snapped. I felt it snap.
How did you process all that?
After it happens, you go to the team doctor and the doctor said this could put a damper on your career or it could be over. You just don’t know how you’re going to rehab from something like that. They did a test. They test the back of your calf and pull it. If your ankle or foot doesn’t move or pull in on its own, it’s a full tear. That’s the easy test. Then you get the MRI’s and all that stuff.
How soon did you get surgery?
Real fast. It was within the week. I iced it, got the swelling down or whatever. Then we got the surgery very quickly.
Did that do for your recovery as opposed to waiting?
There’s two different thought processes. You can strengthen other ligaments or other parts around the Achilles before you get the surgery or strengthen the calf more. But I think for me, it was better to get it done faster and try to get back on the court faster.
What did you think of Kobe getting it the very next day?
That’s who he is and he has people surrounding him. They’re the best. I worked with Judy Seto when I tore mine and [met] his trainer Tim Grover. He told me, ‘I have a special machine for the Achilles tendons.’ This is in 2007. Who knows what they have now. I didn’t work with Tim Grover. I worked with Judy Seto. I was back and it felt great. But I kind of went on my own and lost the strength and some of the stuff I built working with you.
What was it like working with her?
She’s great. It was excruciating pain. It was painful. What she does to manipulate the fascia. It’s very painful. It’s hands on. She has to manually break down the scar tissue and get the mobility back and stuff like that. It hurt like hell. I think I gave her the nickname the Punisher.
What was it that made it so painful?
The sensitivity and the scar tissue being built up. You have to break that down. It’d be fine after. Once you’re done, you’re done. It will subside.
Why didn’t you work with Tim?
He was based in Chicago at the time and my family and I weren’t going to Chicago to train him that summer. He let me know about the machine they have and they had it strictly for that. We didn’t talk about it. He said he spent a lot of money n it and he has it, let’s go. If you need it, I’m here.
And you said by not doing that, you felt you lost the strength and explosiveness?
Yeah. There was a window where I was training on my own. Then when I got with the Sixers training staff, they did a good job and they did what they could. But there was a window where I was by myself training.
Looking back, how much more comfortable would you have been when you returned?
I worked with Judy and came back and played. I averaged 16 or 17 points for 12 games. Then I had the time off. I haven’t averaged 17 since.
Do you think you can get back to that?
I’m about to be 35 with a different role. I can do it some nights for sure.
You described the rehab process as tedious. What other things did you have to go through?
There’s a lot of flexibility and a lot of strengthening and a lot of exercises to help build that strength, the regular ice and electronic stimulation and the alter G. The Clippers got a [weight-bearing treadmill] for me so I could run without my full body weight. They were one of the first teams to have one of those. I used that and tried to come back. The exercises, the therapist does some manually and then you do some on your own. You do some with weights and stretching. You’re focused on this at least an hour and a half just stretching and trying to build strength alone, not the rest of the kinetic chain with your calf, your knee, your hips, your quads, your hamstrings. When that goes, you see other guys with Achilles problems come up with a foot injury. They never had a foot injury. That kinetic chain has to be stable before you can really move.
Once you started playing, did that open up a whole other thing as far as the recovery from playing basketball?
Yeah. Once I started playing, mentally for me it was tough for me to jump off my left foot again. I didn’t have the same explosiveness that I had. I regained and then I relost it. I didn’t have it. I had to change my game a little bit where I jumped off two feet and I was a little bit slower. Things like that.
Have you talked to Kobe at all since his injury about your situation?
Nah, I haven’t spoken to him.
What’s your overall perspective on how his situation?
My perspective with him is he wasn’t the greatest player and the best player in the league through all those years for nothing. He works tirelessly. He’s going to find a way. If anybody can do it to get back to the highest level, he’s going to do it. I came close. But I know he can really do it. He’s going to find a way with all the technological advances out there. He’s flying to Germany. He’s doing everything just to be the best again. I think he can do it. Once he ultimately returns, he’s going to be at that high level. He’s got the skill. He’s got the technological advances. He’s in Germany. Who knows what else he’s doing. He’s doing everything legally. But he’s finding everything that can help him be the best. He’ll find a way. He feeds off that stuff.
Do you see him changing his game?
I think he’ll still be able to drive and be explosive like he was last year where he was finishing at the rim because his body and his knees were feeling better. I think he’ll be able to do it for sure.
What do you think makes Kobe equipped to stay on top of the rehab?
Just the attention to detail. He’s crossing the t and dotting the i. You see him with a basketball in his hand in the hospital bed. He’s only been six months off. People take six months off. You’re in a boot for two months and you can’t even get on the court. He’s probably doing drills anyway that are one legged.
When you see on TV, Kobe injuring his Achilles, trying to walk it off, shooting the free throws and then walking off the court on his own, how do you process all that?
To me, it didn’t register at first that it was an Achilles tear. I thought there was something with his ankle or knee. He knocks the free throws and then walks off the court. Then I find out that it was an Achilles tear. It’s unbelievable. And to make them. To make two free throws and willing your team to the playoffs, he’s just an exceptional basketball player. You can barely balance and walk on your own. For him to make two free throws was amazing.
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