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Kevin Durant’s injury an illustration of risk vs. reward

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TORONTO — The Golden State Warriors and superstar Kevin Durant were faced with one of the toughest decisions in sports: helplessly watch and heal or risk injury and millions chasing an NBA title?

We saw a similar scenario play out in Boston in two seasons ago with Isaiah Thomas’ hip injury.

Thomas initially suffered the injury in March, sat out two games, and then played through the pain until he re-injured the hip in the Eastern Conference semifinals. Thomas eventually required surgery, leaving us to wonder whether he’ll ever be the same player again.

The player health vs. championship aspirations dilemma happens across pro sports.

In 2012, the Washington Nationals shut down pitcher Stephen Strasburg a month before the playoffs, choosing to protect their young ace, who was two years removed from elbow surgery. Washington deemed his long-term health was more important than their chances at a World Series title.

 

Isiah Thomas describes how Kevin Durant’s Achilles injury looked similar to his in 1994.

Durant was questionable to return in Game 5 of the 2019 NBA Finals after being out for over a month with a calf injury. The two-time Finals MVP would be returning to a crucial showdown with his team down 3-1. The prospect of Durant playing in this series may have had Kawhi Leonard, Kyle Lowry and Raptors fans losing sleep at night. A healthy Durant returning was the biggest threat aimed at Toronto and Canada enjoying its first-ever NBA title.

The Warriors’ dynasty was built for Durant. If Durant is healthy and at the top of his game, the Warriors could enter the conversation of greatest sports team ever by winning a third straight title. That’s what made this decision so extremely difficult for Durant, the Warriors and NBA fans. It is a moral dilemma that begs to question: Is an athlete simply a means to an end?

In Game 6 of the 1988 NBA Finals against the Los Angeles Lakers, I played on a severely sprained right ankle for the Detroit Pistons, running the risk of a career-ending injury. I was willing to be a means to a championship end for my team and for the city of Detroit.

 

Isiah Thomas scored an NBA-record 25 points in the third quarter of Game 6 of the 1988 Finals.

Some of the most iconic moments in sports have been accomplished while players were injured. We will never forget Willis Reed of the New York Knicks putting it all on the line. Reed inspired the Knicks and their fans as he limped out of the tunnel In Madison Square Garden in Game 7 of the 1970 NBA Finals. And the Knicks would be champs afterward.

Is it ever acceptable for an athlete to protect himself and not risk it all? Should an athlete reserve their years of earning capacity and health? People should always be treated with respect and dignity. They can be treated as an ends and as a means. But no one should ever be treated only as a means.

We might look to philosophy when determining right from wrong and what is in the individual’s and the team’s best interests. In his “Groundwork of the Metaphysic of Morals,” German philosopher Immanuel Kant describes people as rational beings who have value and dignity which should not be used by others for the benefit of others.

 

Isiah Thomas breaks down how the Golden State locker room is handling Kevin Durant’s injury.

Let’s apply that philosophy to players, coaches and management. They all find themselves in a dilemma, at every level of play. We have seen players undervaluing their value to themselves by taking “magic” potions to become winners, knowing well the damage that they’re doing to their internal organs and taking the risk of potentially shortening their careers and perhaps their lives. These athletes treat their bodies as a means to an end.

Fans want to see Durant perform, to see him risk it all, to become the full means to an end. But even then, there is no guarantee of winning the championship. Are we OK with using the athletes for their ends or helping them to develop into “ends?” Are we OK with using “mind games” to convince or coerce a player to make the sacrifice of himself for the greater good — a championship?

Kant and most philosophers would see this as immoral. But in sports, this dilemma is played out daily and was on full display in Game 5 of the 2019 Finals. What would you do? What could you lose? Is the risk worth the reward?

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Hall of Famer Isiah Thomas , a 6-foot-1 guard from Indiana University, was the second pick in the 1981 NBA Draft. He is a 12-time All-Star who played his entire 13-year NBA career with the Detroit Pistons, leading them to back-to-back championships in 1989 and ’90. He won two All-Star Game MVPs and was the NBA Finals MVP in ’90. Thomas also has been a part owner, executive and coach in the NBA.

He’s now an analyst for NBA TV and has contributed to NBA.com.

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Report: Pau Gasol to join Trail Blazers

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Free agent center Pau Gasol has agreed to a one-year deal with the Portland Trail Blazers, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.

Gasol, 39, who was limited to just 30 games last season because of a variety of injuries, has career averages of 17.0 points and 9.2 rebounds over 17 NBA seasons.



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Report: Furkan Korkmaz returning to 76ers

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Free agent forward Furkan Korkmaz has agreed to a two-year contract to return to the Philadelphia 76ers, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.

Free agent forward Furkan Korkmaz has agreed to a two-year contract to return to the Philadelphia 76ers, agent Mike Lindeman of Excel Sports tells ESPN.

Korkmaz, 21, brings back a rotational forward with the ability to spread the floor with his shooting. The loss of JJ Redick in free agency – and Kyle Korver’s decision to choose Milwaukee over Philadelphia – brought some increased urgency to keep Korkmaz on the Sixers roster.

 The 21-year-old Korkmaz, who was the 26th overall pick in the 2016 NBA Draft, averaged 5.8 points and 2.2 rebounds in 14.1 minutes last season.

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Report: Kevin Love to withdraw from World Cup

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Cavaliers forward Kevin Love is the latest player expected to withdraw from Team USA’s training camp for the FIBA World Cup, according to The Athletic’s Shams Charania.

This news comes just one day after Damian Lillard reportedly withdrew from the World Cup. Love, who played in just 22 games last season because of a shoulder injury, averaged 17.0 points and 10.9 rebounds in 2018-19.

During the previous two weeks, James Harden, Anthony Davis, Eric Gordon, Zion Williamson and CJ McCollum reportedly decided not to compete in the World Cup this year.

Although the guard ranks will be somewhat depleted of NBA stars, Team USA continues to have a deep pool of players available.



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