Quick Edit: Looks like Da'Sean Butler did, in fact, have a torn ACL. He has since had surgery on the knee.
On April 4th, one week ago today, Da’Sean Butler was a crumpled heap on the Lucas Oil Stadium floor.
After leading his West Virginia Mountaineers to an improbable Final 4 berth, the All-American senior had faced an established and well-coached Duke team in the heat of the national spotlight.
Butler was the
main offensive option and strongest on-court leader for . He had foregone the NBA draft in successive
years in order to see how far his team could go, and under the guidance of
Coach Bob Huggins, the squad looked poised for one last push against the
tournament-hardened Blue Devils. West Virginia
A win against Duke meant a trip to the championship game. But the Mountaineers were down big, and it was up Da’Sean Butler to bring this Cinderella back.
On a decisive dribble-drive down the left side,
met Duke’s big
Brian Zoubek near the rim. Da’Sean planted
firmly, absorbed the contact, and put up an awkward floater as the foul was
landed hard, and did not get up. As he
writhed in pain and clutched his left knee, Coach Huggins ran to the court to
consol his fallen star. Butler
* * *
On April 4th, one week ago today, the Milwaukee Bucks were facing the Phoenix Suns in a late regular-season NBA match.
Both teams were in the throes of the playoff race, and needed the victory to secure a favorable match-up in the postseason. Amidst the “Fear the Deer” signs and rabid chants of the Milwaukee faithful, the Bucks surged out to an early 12-point lead over the talented Suns, and looked poised to run away with the game.
Off an errant shot by Amare Stoudamire, forward Carlos Delfino found a streaking Andrew Bogut ahead of the defense. Bogut,
former #1 draft pick and the face of the franchise, had been enjoying a career
year with the surging Bucks and was poised to make his first meaningful post-season
appearance. He caught the pass cleanly,
and went up for a thunderous two-handed throw down as the arena crowd
But as his momentum carried him forwards, Andrew lost his grip on the rim. His body turned in mid-air as he released, and he fell with the brunt of his 260-pound frame directly on his right arm.
The arm bent unnaturally behind his back, under the full weight of his fall. The arena went silent as the training staff rushed to his aid, tending to the disfigured joint. It was the most grotesque injury in the NBA since Shawn Livingston’s knee catastrophe three years ago, and possibly the worst arm injury in the history of the NBA.
* * *
Every single basketball player is playing with the house’s money. Each time you step on the court, you are putting your future games at risk, no matter how small that risk may be. After enough games, after enough plays, there is a near-certain probability that something will go wrong. It may be a turned ankle, it may be a dislocated shoulder. But, odds are, it will happen to you.
I have friends who blew out their knees in an empty gym, shooting jumpers. Heck, Sam Bowie broke his leg in an exhibition layup line with the Blazers in 1987. It’s borrowed time we’re all playing with, a Russian roulette with sneakers.
And this is why I will never hold it against a player for declaring for the draft early.
Look at it this way: Da’Sean Butler’s injury, though painful and scary, turned out to be a simple knee sprain. Nothing worse. It probably won’t affect his career in the long run. And though it shouldn’t affect his draft status, it undeniably will. He was originally projected as a potential lottery pick, and he has since fallen deep into the 2nd round in mock drafts since the tournament.
As a lottery pick,
would have been guaranteed around $3 million in his rookie season, and maybe $7
million overall. As a second-rounder, he
is not guaranteed an NBA contract. Projected
forward, if this knee injury were to cost him an NBA career, it may have been a
near-$30 million loss in potential salary.
It was just a knee sprain, (note - see edit at top!) but it serves as an example of the worst possible outcome for pre-NBA stars everywhere.
Andrew Bogut’s injury was drastic and ugly, and turned out to be way worse than
’s. He is out for the season, and it will take a
year or two at minimum before he is back to full health. But, as he signed a five-year, $76 million
guaranteed contract earlier this year, his recovery will be fully funded to the
tune of over $10 million annually. Butler
Two injuries on the same day. One was dramatically worse than the other. But the lesser injury may have meant a loss of $30 million, and a chance at an NBA career. Doesn’t seem right, does it?
* * *
Players are admonished, both in the media and by collegiate coaches and executives, for leaving school early in order to pursue their NBA dreams. They say the training and experience of four years in college pays substantial dividends when it comes time to make the leap into the NBA. The skills learned on the college court will translate into playing time in the league, and the life lessons learned in school are invaluable.
Besides, they say, if things don’t work out in the pro’s, you’ll always have your degree to fall back on.
A top-tier player is sitting on a winning lottery ticket. If they are a first-round draft pick, that means a guaranteed contract, and a near-guaranteed opportunity. You pass that up, there’s no certainty that the opportunity will present itself again.
The opportunity, plus a guaranteed multi-million dollar contract, that is.
Now, I am not all about the money. But name for me a situation where it’s understandable to withhold, say, $7 million from someone who has earned it. A CEO would spend years in the courtroom trying to get that money back. And that’s not to mention the Kevin Garnetts, the Kobe Bryants, the Dwight Howards and LeBron James that came directly from high school to drive the NBA. Would the league really be better off if they had risked one of these superstars for a year in college?
These kids’ lives revolve around their capacity to play basketball, and a great number of them don’t get that opportunity because of an injury occurring before they could be properly compensated. An NBA contract is a fail-safe. And you get no such thing in college ball.
You can always go back and get your degree, but you can’t give back a busted body part. The window of opportunity to play in the NBA is simply too small and too risky to pass up.
Thus, I am officially against the age requirement for the NBA. Aside from the constitutional arguments and the legality of the rule, it is simply unfair to the handful of talented high-schoolers out there who are risking another year of potential injury before they are eligible. If you are a legal adult, have the skills and the ability to play in the NBA, and the possibility exists for you to sign a contract that compensates your abilities, no power on Earth should be able keep that from you.
Andrew Bogut was fortunate to make it through his two seasons at
injury-free, and was drafted #1 overall.
But Da’Sean Butler made a choice to stay in college, a choice that is
always applauded by the NCAA and the NBA.
But he is a prime example of swinging without a safety net, of what
could happen if you take that risk. Utah
His injury will almost certainly cost him millions. And that’s what makes his story all the more tragic.
* * *
Let’s hope there is light at the end of this tunnel.
work ethic and headiness on the hardwood can prove valuable in the NBA, and
though we can’t be sure, it seems like he will be able to recover from his
injury. But if his knee becomes
problematic and keeps him off the court, there isn’t a team in the league that
will hold on to him. Butler
I think back to a week ago, as
’s title hopes were fading on
that Lucas Oil Stadium floor. When West Virginia went down, I was
sure his chances in professional basketball were done. And I’m pretty sure Butler thought so, too. Butler
It makes me wonder what Coach Bob Huggins was whispering in Da’Sean Butler’s ear. What would you have said?