Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Equipment: Bracing myself

I've suffered a setback on the path to recovery from ACL surgery. In December I was playing pickup in NYC and, on the very last play of the entire night, tweaked my surgically-repaired knee. It didn't feel that serious at the time, but some swelling persisted and for a few weeks after, it just felt weird. I went to see my ortho doc, who examined my knee, told me that it seemed loose, and ordered an MRI. The MRI showed some fraying and stretching of the ACL, but my doc did not recommend surgery. Instead, he suggested I "brace it" and gently return to basketball.

At first I was happy with this diagnosis. Another surgery was the last thing I wanted, never mind the ensuing rehab. But today I went and got my brace. This thing is a f*cking monster! (The pic on the left is the actual model I got.) It's pretty light, but I've been wearing it all day and it definitely lets me know that it's there. It also makes me feel like a character in a sci-fi movie who's been partially reconstructed with robot parts.

Over the years, I've seen many aging ballers wearing these big-ass braces (including Old School after his own ACL repair). To be honest, my opinion of these players was a mix of admiration and pity. I admired them for gutting it out after their bodies had failed them, but pitied them for having those same failing bodies. When we are young, it's hard to imagine a time when we will need such equipment to continue playing a child's game. It's easy to scoff at the old guys doing everything they can to keep up. But soon enough, we are those old guys, and we are faced with enormous, pressing questions.

-Should I keep playing?
-Should I retire?
-What can I expect from myself on the court now?
-What skills must I develop to keep playing effectively?
-What exactly is this "golf" that ex-ballers seem so obsessed with?

The brace serves as a constant reminder that I am on the steep part of the downward curve of hoops ability. It also suggests that I've taken basketball to a certain logical endpoint in my life. When I'm sacrificing my future health for a few moments of adrenaline on the court, I'm not so sure my priorities are in order. In a way, bracing my knee means bracing myself for the inevitable.

Still, I'm going to keep playing. I'm lugging this brace over to the gym this weekend and testing it out. Even though I'm older, slower, and partially robotic, I can't let go of the game that easily, especially after the surgery and rehab I've gone through in order to keep balling. There's got to be a few kids I can still cross up, right?

Setshotters: Please share your knee brace stories with us.


Drew Halfmann said...

Hey Jeff,

Sorry to hear about your setback. I've worn a similar brace and it sucks. The worse part is the way that it gets in your head. You feel like a different player. Maybe it's not all bad though. Sometimes I felt like my brace was a badge of toughness and I played tougher (with my uninjured parts) as a result--especially in the post, which seemed to fit with the brace. Maybe it's time to watch some film of injured greats. At any rate, good luck and keep on ballin!

Jeff said...

Thanks Old School! You are my hero!

Anonymous said...

Well, I've always had similar thoughts when witnessing the old geazers sporting these robotic parts: pity and amazement. Couple with the "why-would-you-be-so-crazy-as-to-keep-pushing-it-past-your-body's-evident-signs-that-you-should-giving-up" feeling... Until now. At the ripe age of 38. Still not ready to give up. Having just suffered a potentially game-style-changing knee injury...

Only time will tell if I can let go of the weekly adrenaline rush, ego-boosting experience. Can I really, as per my wife suggestions, replace b-ball with less-damaging Ultimate Frisbee!?!?!?

Jeff said...

Eric - lol. I don't think that ultimate frisbee is an appropriate step-down sport. It wouldn't be long before you found yourself playing hacky-sack with a bunch of dudes in tie-dyes.

You should just keep balling man!

Anonymous said...

Jeff - Agreed, LOL. If I'm going to continue to slowly chip away at all remaining cartilage, might as well be through a sport I actually really love... Keep on ballin'!!!!