Shaq missed the first 12 games of the Lakers’ season with a toe injury and looked very immobile when he returned to the lineup in the middle of November. He has not been the same dominant center that he has been over the past decade. Just this weekend, Shaq reported having extreme pain in both his left knee and big toe. “I’m doing bad; I’m hurting,” O’Neal told the Los Angeles Times. “I can’t play like this.” Obviously the big man is not playing at 100 percent health.
I look at Shaq’s recurring injuries and wonder whether he returned too quickly and if he would have benefited from a few more weeks of rest. With the Lakers struggling to start the season (3-9 without Shaq), was Shaq under pressure from the Lakers to return to the court, even if it meant returning before his injuries healed? Shaq was already under intense scrutiny for delaying his toe surgery, forcing him to miss the start of the season.
When asked why he did not have the surgery immediately after last season’s championship series, Shaq responded by saying that he should be allowed to have the surgery whenever he wants, even if that meant missing parts of the season. He asked why it wasn’t perfectly acceptable to have the surgery done on “company time” instead of during his offseason.
This brings up an important issue. If an athlete suffers an injury during a game or on “company time” as Shaq would call it, does that athlete have the right to rehab the injury during “company time” instead of during that athlete’s free time, even if it means missing part of a season? I would argue that someone like Shaq should have enough respect for his teammates and organization, as well as for the fans, to have surgery and do the rehab in the offseason in order to return to the court as soon as possible. When you are getting paid $20 million to play basketball for less than half of the year, you should be required to make every effort to play during that entire period.
Shaq would argue that he could have stopped playing before the season ended last year because he was in such pain, but he played through the pain, and should be commended. However, just because he played through injury last year does not mean he should be allowed to milk an injury the following year. Athletes should play through injuries as best they can, and when possible, schedule surgery and rehab during periods of inactivity, not in the middle of the season.
Whether Shaq returned from injury too soon can still be debated. The fact that his play has suffered this year because he missed the preseason and the first 12 games, cannot be debated. The Lakers may still win the NBA Championship this year, and Shaq may still be the MVP of the playoffs, but Shaq let down his teammates, the Lakers organization and the fans. He should be ashamed for still getting paid while missing over 15 percent of an already short season. His selfishness should be condemned.
Woods skips no beats
Woods skips no beats
Tiger Woods returned in triumphant fashion to the PGA Tour last weekend after a two-month layoff. Unlike Shaq, Woods put off knee surgery until after the last tournament of 2002 so that he would miss as little of the 2003 season as possible. His return, at the Buick Invitational, may have come a little sooner than he would have liked, but with Buick being one of his biggest sponsors, Tiger wanted to make sure he quieted all the critics, especially Phil Mickelson. He did just that, beating Mickelson heads up in the final round to win the tournament outright.
Mickelson last week made comments about Tiger using “inferior” Nike equipment, creating a huge stir in the golf world. Since switching from Titleist balls and equipment to Nike, Tiger has not skipped a beat. He has been as dominant as ever, but others, besides Mickelson, have also questioned whether Woods switched to Nike because of the actual equipment or because of publicity and money.
Mickelson claims that Tiger is the only golfer good enough to overcome “inferior” equipment and still be the best player in the world. While many people took this as a criticism and a poke at Woods, I thought Mickelson was paying Woods a great compliment. Mickelson basically said that he thinks Woods is so much better than anyone else in the world, that it does not matter what kind of equipment he uses; he will still win.
The Woods-Mickelson rivalry has never truly met its full potential because of Mickelson’s inability to win a major championship and establish himself as the number two golfer in the world. Right now, Ernie Els qualifies more as a rival than Mickelson, if only because he looks to be playing on a different level this year-four wins already worldwide-and has won majors in the past. There is no question that Mickelson has the ability, but he has not been able to seal the deal and win a major-or, more importantly for the rivalry, beat Tiger. Until that day arrives, Woods will continue to play without a rival. My prediction is that the longer it takes for someone to step forward and challenge Tiger, the sooner he will begin to cut back on his schedule and plan his retirement.