I remember meeting Lebron James in 2003 at the Adidas Big Time Tournament in Las Vegas when my youngest son Matt (Noza) was playing with the Oregon Ice traveling team. You can read about it in my book Noza: A True Basketball Success Story. Lebron was still in high school at the time and was not playing due to an injured wrist. I’m sure he would have loved to play in the tournament since hundreds of people showed up to watch him. I was fortunate enough to walk over and say hi to him. I had no clue that this kid was going to be a superstar someday. I was just going on what my son told me.
“Hi Lebron, I’m David Espinoza, I have a son playing in this tournament. He’s playing for the Oregon Ice.”
Lebron shakes my hand and says, “Nice!”
“How’s your wrist doing?” I ask.
“It’s getting better man, thanks for asking.”
He stands up and looks down at me. I’d say he was about 6’8” at the time and his body was definitely an NFL football body – I’m not joking!
While he’s talking to me, he’s signing autographs for many kids. They walk up with their basketballs and have them signed.
“Well, good luck in the NBA next year man, I’ll be watching you.”
“Thanks man, I appreciate that,” Lebron said very politely.
I don’t think I would have met him if it wasn’t for his injured wrist. It worked out for me, but I think I’d prefer him healthy to play in the tournament. It would have been a blast to see my son matched up against him – 6’4” against 6’8”.
Injuries are a part of life, and when you play sports the risk will be greater than when you’re cooking, sleeping, working in the office, etc. Sometimes injuries can happen when you least expect them. Take our local high school boys’ basketball team for example. The McKay Royal Scots were 7 – 0 and ranked high in the state of Oregon. They were getting ready to play at the Abby’s Holiday Classic in Medford, Oregon.
McKay has three top-notch ball handlers and, as we know, to win games you need ball handlers. McKay first lost Jacob Brustad with a knee injury. On Thursday, December 26th, Isaiah Montona went down with a dislocated and fractured finger the day before departing to the tournament.
The first game of the tournament was against North Medford, Oregon, the home team. They had a really good team and despite our second guard going down we took a ten-point lead early on. Perhaps you can guess where this is going – our third ball handler went down in the first quarter. He was defending a fast break against a North Medford guard. Jorge Garibay was up in the air when he came down awkwardly and sprained his ankle severely. He fell to the gym floor in excruciating pain. McKay ended up losing by 13 points, 62 -49, their first loss of the season.
The good news, well, the good Lord made our bodies to heal with care and time. I can’t explain why injuries happen when they do – it’s just part of the process – part of life.
At the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta, there was a young lady by the name of Kerry Strug – a 4’ 9” gymnast. The Womens’ USA Gymnastic Team was doing well and she was performing the vault. The Russians were neck to neck with the USA and it was coming down to Kerry’s performance for the chance at the gold medal. She had two vaults for the best score possible. On her first vault she landed hard feeling a crack on her ankle – she slid backward in tears holding her ankle. She received a 9.162 for her score which was still a chance for a gold medal but not guaranteed.
Let’s pause for a minute. This is a dream that this young girl had since she was five years old – training intensely for years before this moment. Not only was it a chance for her to accomplish an amazing feat for her and her teammates, but for her country as well.
Her coach took one look at her, not convinced that the USA had a gold secured, and said, “I need you to go one more time.” Kerry put herself into a focus mode despite the pain. I know what a torn ligament feels like so I can relate to what Kerry was going through. She gets back on the 75-foot runway with her ankle taped as best as possible. She seemed to block the pain and her mind was telling her, you can do this one more time.
As she takes off, everyone is intensely watching the moment. Kerry approaches the vault placing her hands down as she throws herself up in the air twisting and turning. She then lands, hearing a second crack, but perfectly sticking her landing. The crowd goes wild! She begins to hop on one leg in tears as her teammates and coach come to her for help. She is carried away in a stretcher. Her score turned into a 9.712 securing gold for the USA!
Kerry suffered two torn ligaments. That was a performance that will never be forgotten.
I certainly can see the reason why Kerry continued with an injury. In my opinion, when you reach a moment that you’ve worked so hard for, I guess you want to do whatever you can because you may not get that opportunity again on such a huge stage.
My advice may not be perfect, but I would x-ray the injury to be sure there are no broken bones. If it’s an important playoff game or event, try to tape up the injury and see if you can go. If you can’t go, trust me, don’t go. You could hurt your team by not being able to move as quickly. You can also cause permanent damage to your body. In Kerry’s case she only had one jump to do. In a basketball game, or a football game you’ll be on that injury a little bit longer. Kerry was also performing in the Olympics, not the same as a high school game or college game.
I actually saw a referee pull his hamstring after calling a foul on a player – no joke! It happened in Silverton, Oregon two years ago. Please do the best you can to stretch out and warm up before playing any kind of sport, yes, even table tennis or officiating a game.