Steve Kerr deserves major props for how he handles his players’ health

Posted on April 22, 2016

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Two years ago it was Lebron’s issues with hydration and team USA soccer’s hamstring problems. Last year when discussing How freaky Kyrie Irving’s knee injury was(n’t) I wrote:

“What playoff sports also gives is an opportunity to watch how athletes at the highest level are managed. It’s kind of incredible every year there are standout examples of what not to do. Examples I think everyone can take something from. Professional athlete or not.”

This year we’re going to give an example of how to do it right. Steve Kerr and the Golden State Warriors are, as they say, putting on a clinic.

To recap,

  1. Steph Curry is the MVP of the league
  2. He has a nasty history with his right ankle. Two previous surgeries, and he likely lost count of how many sprains.
  3. However, the last four years he’s been quite healthy.
  4. He awkwardly turned his ankle / foot in game one of the playoffs against the Houston Rockets
  5. Everybody thought it was his ankle, but follow up reports seem to indicate it was his foot. Kerr saying “it’s underneath his ankle.” Unfortunately it’s always hard to get clear reports on these things, as the media rarely has the background in anatomy to ask the right questions, the medical staff is unavailable for questioning, and teams, understandably, prefer to be vague. Furthermore, in this case the media is going to harp on the ankle. Because of Steph’s history that makes for a juicier story.

-> I have another post about ankle taping coming in the future but it’s poignant to bring this up: If you look at Curry’s ankles, he has a load of protection for them. A thick brace and he gets taped.

Stephen Curry ankles close up

Now think about path of least resistance. If Curry can’t move his ankle because it’s so stabilized, something else needs to move. Something either above or below what’s stabilized. It wouldn’t be surprising if the area Curry hurt is right below where this brace stops. Something like here, but on the lateral side:

Stephen Curry ankles close up with line

This appears to be the only decent video of his injury. It really looks like he turned his foot. Notice how twisted his front foot his compared to the back foot i.e. that mid to high foot area (like in pink above), while his ankle appears to remain straight:

Steph Curry ankle foot injury 2016 1 Steph Curry ankle foot injury 2016 3 Steph Curry ankle foot injury 2016 2 Steph Curry ankle foot injury 2016 4

You can also see his shoe remains fairly flat on the ground -it’s more his foot angling- while in an ankle sprain the shoe / foot will often turn to where it’s on its side. Like if you step off a curb wrong.

He immediately limps after this. It’s very likely the guy’s ankle is so rock steady with his apparatus he ended up turning something else. Instead of moving excessively here:

Ankle bones sprain circle

Which is often taped (plus his brace):

ankle taping stirrup

He may have moved just below that. Say here:

Ankle bones sprain circle foot

This is why you want to be careful going crazy with ankle stabilization techniques.

1) This could be good news for everybody. You’d rather he injure somewhere else than the old spot, though that whole ankle / foot may now be getting a little more beat up. When you insure one area as much as possible, other areas become more susceptible. There are no free lunches with biomechanics.

2) Hey, when your career is riding on your ankle, like Curry’s was, it’s different. For someone with minimal to no ankle history, you could very well end up causing an unwanted increase in injury risk elsewhere e.g. most would rather roll their ankle than their knee! For him, you pray if you have any injury it IS elsewhere. Context, context, context.

Now let’s get into the clinic. Curry tried playing a little longer, but continued hobbling after turning the foot / ankle.

Steph Curry ankle limping rockets game GIF

They take him out of the game and do the standard routine of getting the area retaped. He sits out until after halftime, and comes back in the third quarter. After playing three minutes Steve Kerr takes him out.

Reporter “He lobbied you a few times unsuccessfully to get back in the game. [Steve Kerr smiling.] How hard is it to resist when Steph Curry is making that plea?”

Kerr “It wasn’t a hard decision. I watched him the first three minutes of the third quarter. He was limping, and he did not look good, so the decision was easy. The great thing with Steph is that as the MVP, superstar player, he lobbies me, I say no, and that’s the end of it. He’s just so coachable…”

From here.

Steve Kerr is the man, even if he lied. “he lobbies me, I say no, and that’s the end of it.” But that isn’t true. In the original question, and it’s been repeatedly said, Steph asked Steve repeatedly to get back in the game. Kerr had to tell Curry no more than once.

We’re not knocking anybody here. Curry is doing what athletes do: try and play. Kerr is doing what a phenomenal coach does: genuinely have the athlete’s best interest in mind, and show who decides who plays; who is boss. The coach, not the player. Kerr did this yet made Steph look good in the interview. He didn’t say Steph showed some defiance trying to get back in multiple times. He said Steph was so coachable. This is a coach you want to play for.

This is why athletes need coaches. They cannot, cannot, cannot, manage themselves. Plus they’re put in a hopeless position. Say Steph does the smart thing and says “Sorry, I can’t play guys.” Ok, but then the other players see a guy who isn’t limping while walking around, and according to reports had no noticeable swelling after the game. That, to many players, is an ankle / foot sprain you play with.

So if he does the smart thing and sits himself, he may very well cause animosity amongst his teammates. “Suck it up dude / tape it even more / tie your shoes tighter / take some Advil / get a cortisone shot. It’s the damn playoffs bruh.” But if he just puts himself out there he risks really jacking himself up. We need an intermediary- the coach. Yes, the team has a medical staff, but their opinion often goes in one ear and out the ass. Ultimately, the coach decides if a player is allowed to play, because a player will almost always say they’re going to play, and it’s their body. Just like you go to your own doctor and he says “Don’t do X,” it’s not like they can genuinely make you not do X.

Steph Curry before game two:

“Right now, don’t see a scenario where I’ll be out. Obviously if it’s not right and I’m at risk of further injury or what not, that’s the only thing that we’ll have to worry about. Pain tolerance and all that stuff, I kind of know what I can deal with on the court. But you don’t want anything more serious to happen, favoring an ankle or what not. So that’s what we’ll kind of pay attention to the next two days.”

Sounds like he’s playing. Steve Kerr before game two:

“I’d say Steph is questionable.”

Notice the disconnect. It’s not like they aren’t talking to one another. Curry warms up for game two and half way through the warm-up stops. Somewhere in that time period a decision was made he wasn’t playing. My guess is something along the lines of somebody told him, “If you feel anything, or it’s not loosening up, stop warming up.” Unfortunately it’s not clear if somebody was watching him and had him stop. It does seem like he stopped himself though. Regardless, he doesn’t play game two.

Let’s think back to when Kyrie Irving was out of the playoffs last year. Matt Dellavedova was his back up. Delly had been playing 20.5 minutes in the regular season. After Kyrie Irving goes out? He goes from 9 minutes in game one, to an enormous 42 minutes in game two, and 38 in game three. The guy had to go to the hospital after game three because of this.

What does Steve Kerr do with Shaun Livingston, Steph Curry’s backup? Livingston played 19.5 minutes in the regular season. Repeatedly the announcers say in game two, “We’ve been told Livingston will play no more than 30 minutes. The Warriors don’t want to ramp up his minutes too much.”

Beautiful! Even in game three against the Rockets, in the fourth quarter when the Warriors clearly needed Livingston, nope, he only has six minutes left he can play, so Kerr doesn’t let him in until there are six minutes left in the game.

Simple, but incredibly hard in practice to pull off. Kerr is not mortgaging his player’s health on a few games or one playoff series. David Blatt and the Cavs couldn’t have cared less about their players last year. “We just gotta suck it up.” Sure. Because physiology is strictly will power #LogicFail.

The day before game three; Curry:

“Based on how I feel right now I probably couldn’t play.”

But he was hopeful for the next day. So much so…

Rosalyn Steph Curry tweet

Steph is media savvy and a good teammate. Before game three he’s probably thinking to stay with the narrative of the coaching staff. Not wanting to conflict someone or leave someone like Kerr out to dry. But inside his head he’s thinking, “I’m effing playing.”

Now we’re really going to show Steve Kerr knows what he’s doing.

“It’s funny because people say: `Just give him like two weeks off his ankle will be fine,”‘ Kerr said with a laugh. “Yeah, but what about his shooting arm? What about his handle? Players want to play. So there’s always a rest versus rhythm equation in there somewhere that we have to factor in.”

Source.

So even though he’s not limping and felt solid before game three,

“We talked to him after shootaround today, and he felt pretty good,” Kerr said. “He moved well. He wanted to play. But ultimately, we didn’t feel comfortable after four straight days of inactivity, throwing him into the middle of a playoff game, not knowing how the ankle would respond.”

The decision to sit did not originate with Curry, according to Kerr.

“His thought was that he would be OK,” Kerr said. “We just felt a lot more comfortable putting him through a 3-on-3 tomorrow, probably a 5-on-5 on Saturday and really seeing if he’s OK or not.”

Source.

Yes! You don’t take time off from an injury then, once pain has subsided, immediately go into the level of activity you were doing. You build back into it. In this case, 3 on 3, then 5 on 5, then a game. 3 on 3 is less people / traffic to deal with and less running, 5 on 5 is less intense than a game. It’s tedious but way better health wise. You give time for the injured area to adapt back to normalcy, and if there’s an issue you want to find out about it in a less intense setting.

This is the biggest mistake recreational athletes make, which also applies to professionals. What did Kyrie Irving do after taking some time off from his knee injury? Play 44 minutes! He came back from injury and played more than usual! (It will be interesting to see how many minutes Curry plays in the game he comes back. Wouldn’t be surprised if it’s less than his average. Though if he plays game four, then a week of no play isn’t that much time to worry about.)

And this isn’t special to Stephen Curry. Curry two days before game four:

“It was kind of a normal practice protocol for guys coming back off injury and guys who don’t get a ton of minutes to come in and get some 3 on 3 work…”

A lot of reports have harped on this is Steph Curry so the Warriors are being extra cautious, but really they’re handling him like they handle any hurt guy. Which is how you should do it. You don’t handle someone differently because they’re better at shooting than someone else. You are maybe more cautious with his past issues, but that doesn’t mean they’d be giving any guy, like Klay Thompson, free license to come back in and play in pain. They clearly want their guys feeling good when they play. Beyond football where if you never played in pain you’d never play, this is how most sports should do things. Where many injuries, chronic ones in particular, are not freak things. They’re a result of mismanagement. One week things don’t magically turn into month after month long things.

While likely the whole Warriors staff deserves credit, Kerr is at the top of the decision maker hierarchy in this regard. He’s the filter of all the differing opinions. Steph’s, medical staff, assistance coaches, GM, owner, the janitor yelling at him, fans who are a little more nervous now after losing a game, media who are going to push him with questions like “Does the urgency to bring Steph back increase now that you’ve lost a game?” Kudos to him for doing it right.

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