The Most Severe Injuries to NBA Players in History

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Basketball, despite being one of the most fun sports to watch and play, can get intense and dangerous, especially in the NBA. Athletes who play at the highest level of the game push their bodies to their limits day in and day out in order to get ahead of the competition. The physicality of the game and the strain that it can put on a player’s body however can also be the source of injuries.

Injuries are common in the NBA, and players often recover quick enough to be able to suit up after missing just a couple of games. However, some injuries require at least a season’s worth of rehabilitation, while other injuries are so severe that they could even discourage others from picking up a basketball ever again.

The NBA has witnessed some of these injuries that you wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy. That the players on this list nonetheless had viable basketball careers after their injuries is a testament to the quality of players in the NBA.

Andrew Bogut injures his elbow

Andrew Bogut came in as a touted 7-foot center who was drafted first overall by the Milwaukee Bucks in 2005. Unfortunately, his career came to an unexpected halt when he injured his elbow in a match against the Phoenix Suns on April 4, 2010.

After catching a beautiful outlet pass from the other side of the court and finishing the break with a two-handed dunk, Bogut appeared to have prematurely lost his grip on the rim and began falling horizontally to the ground. He tried to stop his fall by putting down his arm but the weight of his body was too much. His elbow snapped in the opposite direction and he had to be taken out of the game immediately.

Despite this horrifying injury, Bogut was able to mount a successful return, and achieved success with the Golden State Warriors, where he was an integral part of the championship-winning squad in 2015.

Jorge Garbajosa suffers a broken leg

The Raptors found a gem in undrafted power forward Jorge Garbajosa in the late 2000’s. After playing for foreign teams early in his career, Garbajosa caught his big break when he was signed by the Raptors in 2006.

Unfortunately, Garbajosa’s time in the NBA was cut short by an injury to his left leg in a game against the Boston Celtics on March 26, 2007. As he was attempting a chase down block, Garbajosa landed awkwardly and suffered a broken fibula, a displaced ankle, and ligament damage.

Garbajosa was required to be sidelined for six months but never really returned to form. The following season, he had to have another surgery on his ankle and leg, and in 2008, Garbajosa’s contract was bought out by the Raptors. He afterwards returned to Europe where he played out the rest of his career.

Kermit Washington punches Rudy Tomjanovich

Things can sometimes get heated during the course of an NBA game, and players chirping at each other is not an uncommon sight especially in games between rivals. However, the intensity of the game and the heat of the moment can sometimes take over some NBA players, such as when Kermit Washington threw a punch at Rudy Tomjanovich on December 9, 1977, when Washington’s Los Angeles Lakers faced off against Tomjanovich’s Houston Rockets.

As a scuffle broke out between the opposing teams, Tomjanovich ran to break it up. He was however met by Washington’s fist straight to his face. Tomjanovich collapsed and was unconscious for a moment while his blood pooled in the middle of the arena. His face was fractured and he suffered a concussion, and a broken jaw and nose. Due to the severity of his injuries, Tomjanovich reportedly could taste his spinal fluid leaking into his mouth.

The injury nearly ended Tomjanovich’s life, but he was able to make a successful comeback and even made the All-Star team two years after the incident. Tomjanovich retired in 1981 and then pursued a successful career in coaching. He coached the Houston Rockets squad led by Hakeem Olajuwon which won back-to-back NBA championships in 1994 and 1995. In 2020, Rudy Tomjanovich was inducted in the Basketball Hall of Fame as a coach. 

Paul George’s devastating leg fracture

Paul George rose to prominence in the early 2010s with the Indiana Pacers. The 10th overall pick of the 2010 NBA Draft was a key cog in the Pacers team that posed a legitimate threat to the Miami Heat Big Three of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh. George had the makings of a superstar early in his career, but he was put in a precarious situation when he injured his leg while playing for Team USA in 2014.

The Team USA game in August 1, 2014 was supposed to showcase the top talents of the NBA as they sought to represent their country in international competition. George was just doing his job on defense trying to block a James Harden layup when he fell to the ground and suffered one of the most gruesome injuries in recent history. George suffered an open tibia-fibula fracture and the game had to be stopped as all players were left in shock.

Anxiety crept in as fans were doubtful if George would be able to return to MVP-caliber form. George nonetheless put in the time and the work to prove his doubters wrong and prove that he’s still one of the best players in the NBA. After spending some time in Indiana and Oklahoma City after this devastating injury, George is now a centerpiece in a potent Los Angeles Clippers team together with Kawhi Leonard.

Gordon Hayward’s gruesome ankle injury

In 2017, the Boston Celtics appeared to be one of the frontrunners for the NBA championship with a revamped roster highlighted by newly-signed stars Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward. Their hopes were however quickly shattered in the first game of the season against the Cleveland Cavaliers.

After attempting to catch an alley-oop pass from Irving, Hayward landed awkwardly and the next thing that fans saw was that the lower part of Hayward’s leg was contorted in such a way that it shouldn’t be. Hayward suffered a dislocated ankle and a fractured tibia and had to miss the rest of the season.

Hayward never quite returned to All-Star form with the Celtics as he was relegated to the bench in light of the rise of Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum. This season, Hayward signed with the Charlotte Hornets where he seeks to form a solid core together with the 2020 3rd overall pick LaMelo Ball. 

Shaun Livingston destroys his knee

One of the NBA’s biggest what-ifs is Shaun Livingston’s career. Livingston was drafted by the Los Angeles Clippers with the 4th overall pick in the 2004 NBA Draft and had the potential to be an All-Star caliber player. This was until he suffered one of the most debilitating injuries not just in the history of the NBA, but perhaps in the history of sports.

On February 26, 2007, the Clippers were facing the Charlotte Bobcats. Livingston had the ball on the fast break and came up for a layup after getting ahead of the defense, only to land unnaturally. His left leg snapped laterally and he injured nearly every part of his knee. Doctors said that his injury was probably the most severe injury that one can suffer in the knee, and there was even the possibility of his leg having to be amputated.

Livingston was fortunately able to power through and return to the NBA, though he never reached his full potential. After coming back from injury, Livingston spent the next few years hopping from team to team until he found the place for him in the Golden State Warriors in 2014. Livingston served as one of the key bench players of the Warriors squad that won championships in 2015, 2017, and 2018. Despite the what-ifs, Livingston’s story is nonetheless one of the most inspiring in the NBA’s recent history, as he has shown what can be achieved through determination, hard work, and faith in oneself. 

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