DEERFIELD, Ill. – The next time someone casts a dirty look your way for all those couch-and-clicker hours logged catching every possible NBA playoff game from mid-April to mid-June, be sure to point out the educational value contained therein.
Particularly for the budding orthopedists in the audience.
A year ago at this time, sports fans across America learned more than they ever cared to know — at Derrick Rose’s, Iman Shumpert’s and Baron Davis‘ expense — about anterior cruciate knee ligaments and the surgery required to repair them. Two weeks ago, the NBA got a refresher course in Achilles tendons, courtesy of Lakers star Kobe Bryant and his Twitter account.
Now the layman’s medical lesson of the day relates to plantar fasciitis, a condition of the foot that is more fun to say than to spell but really stinks if you’re the one hobbling around with it.
“Plantar fasciitis sucks,” said Bulls center Joakim Noah, who lost games and Defensive Player of the Year votes to the injury during the regular season and is desperate not to lose winning opportunities to it now. In the first two games against Brooklyn in the teams’ first-round playoff series, Noah was ineffective and limited to 13:27 minutes in the opener but came up big in 25:29 of Chicago’s Game 2 victory, including a fourth quarter in which he had nine points and six rebounds in less than eight minutes.
Noah’s condition will be monitored and probably won’t significantly improve until the Bulls’ postseason ends. And now Nets shooting guard Joe Johnson is suffering from his own bout of plantar fasciitis — it kept him out of practice Wednesday, with Game 3 Thursday (8:30 p.m. ET, NBA TV) at Chicago’s United Center.
“It feels like you have needles underneath your foot while you’re playing,” Noah said, trying to explain the pain. “You need to jump, you need to run, you need to do a lot of things while you’re playing basketball, so you don’t want needles underneath your foot, right?”
Said Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau: “His feet are really what makes him so special. A guy who can guard pick-and-rolls, can catch and shoot, transition. You can switch him out onto people – when teams go small, you can put him out on a perimeter player. So his foot speed and his agility, that’s a big part of what his strengths are.
“He’s willing [through] it right now. It says a lot about him. We certainly appreciate what he’s putting forth.”
At the Nets’ practice facility in New Jersey, Johnson told reporters: “I’m a little sore, but I’ll be able to give them what I’ve got. This is what we play the regular season for, and we fought so hard to get to this point and to have a little nagging injury like this is tough. But it’s part of it.”
Said Thibodeau: “Oh, he’ll play. Don’t worry.”
The fact is, plantar fasciitis can be something to worry about. It certainly is something worth learning about at this time of any NBA season, so here is some info on it:
- First, you need to know how to spell and say it. This tearing of the plantar fascia – the thick band of tissue that runs along the bottom of our feet from heel bone to the toes – drops the “a” and gets the tricky double “i.” They’re both pronounced too (fa-she-i-tis).
- What goes wrong? The plantar fascia “is the body’s first line of defense from the impact forces associated with being active,” longtime Golden State Warriors trainer Tom Abdenour wrote in an instructional piece in 2002-03. “The players will report a somewhat deep pain in the foot near the heel or in the middle of the foot. The less severe cases will be tender, particularly when they wake up and take that first step in the morning.”
- Gauging the severity is tricky. Much rides on the individual player’s pain threshold. Diagnostic exams such as MRIs or bone scans only reveal so much, which puts it in the realm of “lower back pain” of foot injuries. Some players perform right through it. Others require more drastic treatment, from orthotics in their shoes and stretching to rest and immobilization.
- “It’s a tricky injury,” Thibodeau said, “because a lot of guys have it [but] some are able to play with it more than others, because there are different degrees of pain. Also some guys completely tear it — [former Bull] James Johnson did that some years ago here and he was able to play, like, two or three days later without pain. Then other guys tear it and you have to sit ’em down for six to eight weeks. For every guy, it’s different.”
- Micheal Williams, a point guard for Minnesota two decades ago, suffered from one of the most severe cases of plantar-fasciitis, with folks around the league just learning of the term. The NBA record holder for consecutive free throws made (97), Williams was 28 at the start of 1994-95 when he felt pain in the bottom of his left foot. He played in only 37 of 378 games over the next five seasons, took endless grief over the $15 million, seven-year contract he wasn’t “earning” and had to retire at age 32.
- The New York Times‘ Web site, coincidentally, addressed the condition Wednesday in its “Ask Well” column. It advocated stretching and being “patient. Recovery from plantar fasciitis typically requires months,” quoting an orthopedic surgeon. Obviously that’s not an option Noah or Johnson is interested in this week.
- Noah battled this before — in his left foot in the 2009-10 season — and it led to a battle of a different sort. When former Bulls coach Vinny Del Negro exceed a specified minutes limit when Noah returned to action, team VP John Paxson reportedly had a physical confrontation with Del Negro after a March game against Phoenix. Thibodeau said he will be leaving Noah’s workload up to the team’s medical staff, including trainer Fred Tedeschi, as he did in the series’ first two games.
- Johnson missed four games during the season with what the Nets described as a sore left heel but that apparently was the start of this plantar fasciitis episode. As a reference point for media folks, Johnson compared his condition to the Bulls center’s. “It’s a little different for me and Noah,” he said. “I’m chasing guys off screens, penetrating, cutting. He’s a big man, so it’s a lot different.”
Then again, maybe not. It’s feet. They hurt. Beyond that, only the individual player knows how bad it really is. Not too bad, the Nets and the Bulls both are hoping, in Johnson’s and Noah’s cases.