May 30, 2023

NBA’s injury updates show lack of regard for fans

NBA injury reports have turned into politician media availability. Expect everything except for a straight answer. The Philadelphia 76ers reportedly ran an MRI on Joel Embiid’s knee 10 days ago. He was expected to be able to play early last week if necessary and most certainly be available for the start of the second round. The Athletic’s Shams Charania and ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported over the weekend that Embiid actually suffered a more serious knee sprain and is doubtful for Game 1 against the Boston Celtics.

This comes after the Los Angeles Clippers held Kawhi Leonard out for the final three games of their first-round series against the Phoenix Suns. The Clippers originally announced that Leonard had a sprain in the same knee as his surgically repaired ACL. Then last Wednesday, Charania reported that Leonard had actually suffered a torn meniscus.

In recent years the messaging around NBA injuries has become increasingly cloudy. Instead of a time frame of recovery from injuries teams now usually default to, “We’ll reevaluate in two weeks.” The New Orleans Pelicans announced that they were reevaluating Zion Willamson’s hamstring about 10 times in 2023 and the result was that he missed the entire rest of the season after Jan. 2.

Also, last season the Pelicans were cagey with information about Willamson’s foot injury. The organization originally said that he would be ready to play on opening night. He did not play a single game as the Pelicans trickled out information for an entire season.

In an ideal society, we probably should not have so much information about the condition of the bodies of professional athletes. Their health should be their own business, except for the fact their job is to perform in front of people. That’s literally what professional athletes are paid to do. The NFL pays out players’ yearly salaries by game checks.

Leagues sell to the public product of people playing live sports. The public pays to view it through cable bills, league packages, tickets, parking, concessions, and purchasing the products advertised during commercial breaks. If part of what the audience is paying for will not be available, they do deserve to know why.

When Donald Glover has to reschedule tour dates, the right thing to do is to inform those who paid for tickets that a broken foot is the reason. The product is him performing his songs live. Those of us who watch the NBA should get the common courtesy of a reasonable injury update.

Viewers want to watch basketball played at the highest possible level. We schedule our days around these games. Telling us that Joel Embiid is hurt but that it’s not serious, and then a week later doubling back on the original information is a disservice to those who watch the games.

NBA fans were likely relieved when the 76ers swept the Brooklyn Nets. It gave Embiid maximum time to recover and be ready for one of the most highly anticipated playoff matchups in recent years with the 76ers going up against the Boston Celtics. A historic NBA rivalry in two top-10 media markets, with several All-NBA performers, including one MVP candidate.

The league cannot control whether or not Embiid is healthy enough to play, but some clear messaging surrounding the injury would be appreciated. Dropping a bombshell the day before the series is supposed to start shows a lack of consideration for the people who consume this product.

With the way that the league messaging has gone this year, we have no idea if Embiid is going to be able to play at all in this series. With Leonard, the Clippers just ruled him out before each individual game. I find it hard to believe that when he was first examined by NBA-level doctors they somehow missed that he tore a meniscus.

It would have been nice to know that he would be out for likely the rest of the postseason to mentally prepare for what the viewing experience will be for the subsequent games. I have no problem watching an NBA game with key players in street clothes. What is annoying is being left in the dark about what level of quality to expect from the product.

So fair warning to all NBA playoff viewers, there will be no clean and clear message about how Embiid or Jimmy Butler are recovering from their injuries. Maybe they will play or maybe they won’t. That is all the information you will receive about an event that is watched by millions of people across the globe.