Inspired by Kobe Bryant’s severe Achilles injury suffered right before the 2013 playoffs, Nike has released the “Medical Mamba” shoes specifically designed to assist athletes who are rehabbing their Achilles. The Achilles tendon is the thickest and strongest muscle in the human body, but it can also be injured in several ways: tendinosis, ruptured (also called a tear), lacerated, or crushed. After Bryant’s injury, he led our listing of the Top 10 NBA careers marred by Achilles injuries between 1992-2013. Now, we present the Top 15 NBA Careers altered by an Achilles injury in NBA history.
Other Notable Players: Jim “Bad News” Barnes, Gerald Wilkins, Larry Costello, and Christian Laettner
F.Y.I.: Larry Bird (bone spur in Achilles of both feet), Charles Barkley (ruptured tendon in knee), and Shaquille O’Neal (Achilles tendon strain)
Current Players to Watch: Jonas Jerebko (tore Achilles tendon), J.R. Smith (sore Achilles), and Ty Lawson (strained Achilles)
Type of Tear: Achilles Heel
Age Injured: 31
Age Retired: 31
Pre-Injury: 13.4 ppg 3.1 rpg 2.0 apg 605 games
Inspired by his idol Elgin Baylor, Miles also attended Seattle University. Like his idol, Miles would also suffer a career-ending Achilles injury. One of the best pure shooters in NBA history, Miles became an All-Star in 1966, while enjoying his best professional season, during which he averaged: 19.6 ppg and 3.8 rpg in 80 games. Miles suffered a career-ending Achilles injury in the 1971-1972 season. Humorously reflecting on his playing days, Miles told Seattle U, “If I had some legs, I could still play. If they had a position of standing guard, I could still play.”
Type of Tear: Torn Left Achilles Tendon
Age Injured: 31
Age Retired: 32
Pre-Injury: 11.7 ppg 8.1 apg 1.2 spg 648 games
Post-Injury: 4.3 ppg 4.2 apg 0.9 spg 11 games
+/- -7.4 ppg -3.9 apg -0.3 spg
Regarded by some as one of the greatest forgotten point guards in NBA history, Porter led the NBA in assists 4 times. Porter used his blistering speed to post a career-best 15.4 ppg, 13.4 apg, and 1.9 spg in the 1978-1979 season. In the ’74-’75 season, Porter, Wes Unseld and Elvin Hayes led the Washington Bullets to the NBA Finals, where they were swept by the Ricky Barry, Jamaal Wilkes and the Golden State Warriors. In the 1981-1982 season, Porter tore his Achilles during a defensive drill in a team practice at Bowie State College. Porter would miss the entire season and only play 11 more games in his career. After his severe injury, Porter’s numbers dropped in almost every area, but remarkably he was able to improve his shooting percentage (FG and FT).
Type of Tear: Partial Tear Right Achilles Tendon
Age Injured: 33
Age Retired: 34
Pre-Injury: 17.9 ppg 10.4 rpg 0.8 bpg 321 games
Post-Injury: 1.1 ppg 1.6 rpg 0.0 bpg 11 games
+/- -16.8 ppg -8.8 rpg -0.8 bpg
Jeff Ruland was a talented center, but he was limited by serious leg and ankle injuries throughout his career. Even though Ruland made the All-Star team in 1984, the 6’10 center was forced into early retirement due to injury and several cartilage operations in 1987. Ruland retired for 4 seasons between 1988-1991 only to attempt an ill-fated comeback in 1992, which ended abruptly—only 13 games into the season—when a luggage cart slammed into his leg outside the Boston Garden while he was waiting to board the team bus, after a game on January 17th, 1992. After playing 11 games the next season, Ruland retired for good in January 1993 while playing for the Detroit Pistons. Ruland sued the Boston Celtics over the pushcart incident that essentially ended his career, but he lost the multi-million dollar suit since earlier injuries had already taken so much from his game.
Type of Tear: Torn Left Achilles
Age Injured: 35
Retired: 36 (still playing)
Pre-Injury: 15.5 ppg 5.5 apg 1002 games
Post-Injury: 8.4 ppg 2.2 apg 22 games 1 season
+/- -7.1 ppg -3.3 apg
Billups struggled to establish himself and find a home in the NBA, until he found himself playing for the Detroit Pistons under Hall of Fame Head Coach Larry Brown. Billups became a championship point guard and one of the best lead guards in the NBA. Billups earned the nickname “Mr. Big Shot” for his late-game heroics in the regular season and the playoffs. In 2011 Billups signed with the Los Angeles Clippers, but he was injured in an overtime game against the Orlando Magic in February 2012. After missing most of the 2012-2013 season, Billups returned to the Clips for 22 games, during which time his field goal shooting and overall production slumped. Over the summer, Billups signed with his former club the Detroit Pistons, but the move signals to many that Billups best days as a player are over.
Type of Tear: Ruptured Achilles Tendon
Age Injured: 26
Age Retired: 30
Pre-Injury: 22.3 ppg 10.4 rpg 248 games
Post-Injury: 9.5 ppg 4.8 rpg 155 games
+/- -12.8 ppg -5.6 rpg
Center Bob Rule was another great player whose career was altered and cut short due to an Achilles injury. Drafted by the Seattle SuperSonics in 1967, Rule was an All-Star during the 1969-1970 season and averaged a career-best 29.8 ppg, 11.5 rpg, and 1.8 apg the following season. After he came into the season out of shape, Rule’s career all but ended when he blew out his Achilles tendon in the 4th game of the 1970-1971 season. He missed the remainder of the season and, although Rule would return, he was never the same player. His career ended unceremoniously, when Rule was waived by the Milwaukee Bucks on November 11th, 1974.
Type of Tear: Ruptured Left Achilles Tendon
Age Injured: 28
Retired: 34 (still playing)
Pre-Injury: 20.3 ppg 10.2 rpg 2.1 bpg 606 games
Post Injury: 12 ppg 7.0 rpg 1.3 bpg 326 games 6 seasons
+/- -8.3 ppg -3.2 rpg -0.8 bpg
Before his injury, Brand was one of the few 20-10 guys in the NBA. The season before his injury, Brand averaged: 20.5 ppg, 9.3 rpg, and shot 53.3% from the field. Throughout his career, he was reliable and healthy, rarely missing games due to injury. His best season was 2005-2006, where Brand scored 24.7 ppg, grabbed 10.0 rpg and 2.5 blocked shots per game. After his injury, Brand never regained his All-Star status, but he did average 17.6 ppg, 8.0 rpg, and 1.9 bpg for a season. Actually, Brand popped his Achilles earlier that season in a game against the Toronto Raptors. In the off-season during a Clippers practice in August of 2007 against recent Lakers acquisition Chris Kaman, Brand ruptured his Achilles. But, Brand’s still been just short of a double-double for 6 years. The only part of his game that has truly shown great decline is his shot blocking. Brand’s post-injury production has been one of the best of all-time. Compared to most other players, Brand didn’t lose his shot-blocking game entirely, although it has deteriorated over time. While Brand’s scoring took a hit, his rebounding was also less-affected by the injury than most players who suffer from serious Achilles injuries. Brand has high hopes for Kobe Bryant as he plans his own return from an Achilles tear. Elton Brand told ESPN Dallas’ Tim MacMahon that he thinks Kobe will “be fine…if there’s anybody that could come close [to his pre-injury self], he can,” a sentiment that Miami Heat star LeBron James shared on twitter.
Type of Tear: Ruptured Right Achilles Tendon
Age Injured: 30
Age Retired: 33
Pre-Injury: 16.3 ppg 8.4 apg 1.5 spg 715 games
Post-Injury: 6.8 ppg 6.4 apg 0.9 spg 53 games
+/- -9.5 ppg -2.0 apg -0.6 spg
2-time All-Star and Rookie of the Year Norm Nixon was a 1st round pick by the Los Angeles Lakers in the 1977 NBA Draft, but when the Lakers acquired point guard Earvin “Magic” Johnson out of Michigan State, the writing was on the wall. Johnson and Nixon played effectively alongside one another, but having two point guards was redundant and management felt the two could not really coexist on the basketball court, even though they won 2 championships together, beating Dr. J and the 76ers 4-2 each time. Nixon led the Lakers in scoring during the 1982 playoffs with 20.4 ppg, led the league in steals (1978-1979), and led the league in total assists (1983-1984). On October 10th, 1983, Nixon was traded to the San Diego Clippers in exchange for the rights to shooting guard Byron Scott. Before the 1985-1986 season, Nixon had only missed 7 games in his first 8 seasons. Then, he missed a season due to a ruptured tendon in his right knee. While attempting his comeback, Nixon went down again. During a pre-season practice at Cal State Dominquez Hills on November 4th, 1987, Nixon cut to the basket and suddenly tore his right Achilles tendon. Nixon then missed the entire 1987-1988 season. His career ended officially in 1989.
Type of Tear: Strained Achilles Tendon
Age Injured: 33
Age Retired: 35
Pre-Injury: 19.3 ppg 4.6 apg 1.4 spg 876 games
Post-Injury: 14.4 ppg 4.8 apg 1.1 spg 155 games
+/- -4.9 ppg +0.2 apg -0.3 spg
5-time All-Star Gail Goodrich was drafted by the L.A. Lakers in 1965. After a few seasons backing up fellow Hall of Famer Jerry West as a reserve, Goodrich moved into the starting lineup, and the 6’1, 175 lb. guard proved his critics wrong, showing he could handle the pro game. And did he ever. The left-handed Goodrich scored 18.6 ppg during his 1031 game career that spanned 14 seasons. After teammate Elgin Baylor retired, Goodrich led the Lakers in scoring during the 1971-1972 season with 25.9 ppg. The Lakers went on to win 33 straight games, still an NBA record, win 69 games in the regular season, a record until Jordan’s ’95-’96 Bulls broke it, and win the 1972 NBA championship. While playing for the New Orleans Jazz, Goodrich injured his Achilles in the first game of the 1976-1977 season. He tried to play thru the injury, which only made it worse. Eventually, Goodrich had Achilles surgery in late January and missed the remainder of the season. He played two more years after his injury, but he was never close to the same scorer, although he remained a good distributor and shooter.
Type of Tear: Achilles Tendon Tear
Age Injured: 28
Age Retired: 35
Pre-Injury: 24.8 ppg 8.0 apg 1.5 spg 467 games
Post-Injury: 11.9 ppg 6.6 apg 0.8 spg 409 games
+/- -12.9 ppg -1.4 apg -0.7 spg
Hall of Fame point guard Nate “Tiny” Archibald was a 6-time All-Star, an All-Star MVP, and an NBA champion with Larry Bird and the Boston Celtics. In the 1972-1973 season, Archibald he became first player in NBA history to lead the league in points per game (34.0 ppg) and assists per game (11.4 apg). But, in his next season, “Tiny” injured his Achilles tendon, limiting him to 35 games. Quick, smart, and creative, Archibald averaged 18.8 ppg, 7.4 apg, and 1.1 spg during his career, but as you can see from the numbers above, after Archibald endured his second Achilles injury, he was never again an All-Star level player. He missed the entire 1977-1978 season. After 14 years, Archibald retired as the pride of the South Bronx Patterson housing projects.
Type of Tear: Torn Achilles Tendons (right and left)
Age Injured: 22 and 23
Age Retired: 38 (NBA)
Pre-Injury: 18.5 ppg (1983 Junior Olympics) 23 games
Post-Injury: 12.0 ppg (1996-2003, NBA) 470 of games
+/- -6.5 ppg
Hall of Fame center Sabonis recovered from his Achilles injuries to play another 17 seasons, a remarkable feat for this type of injury. Before his injury, many claim Sabonis may have been one of the best centers of all-time. In fact, Rick Carlisle, an assistant coach in Portland when Sabonis arrived, told Kerry Effers of the Portland Tribune that “I have no doubt Arvydas would be in the conversation as a top 15 or 20 player all-time without the injuries.” 7’3 Sabonis was an astounding talent, capable of dominating the game on both ends of the floor. Winner of 10 International championships, Sabonis eventually took his talents to the NBA. Before the draft, he tore his Achilles. Oddly, when Sabonis was recovering from a torn left Achilles, he fell down a flight of stairs and tore his right Achilles. Despite his injuries, the Portland Trailblazers drafted Sabonis with the 24th pick in the 1986 NBA Draft. Although Sabonis’ mobility was hampered by injury, his great hands, passing, and shooting allowed him to continue a solid career. His injuries might not have plagued him throughout his career, many argue, if he had not rushed back into playing too soon in the 1988 Olympics. The 6x Euroscar Player of the Year Sabonis played 7 seasons for the Blazers before retiring a second time in 2003 at the age of 38, but he continued playing internationally until 2005.
Type of Tear: Partially Torn Left Achilles Tendon
Age Injured: 36
Age Retired: 39
Pre-Injury: 23.2 ppg 10.3 rpg 2.7 bpg 977 games
Post-Injury: 9.6 ppg 7.0 rpg 1.0 bpg 206 games
+/- -13.6 ppg -3.3 -1.7 bpg
Hall of Famer Patrick Ewing is regarded by many as one of the best centers in NBA history. Ewing averaged 21.0 ppg, 9.8 rpg, and 2.4 bpg during his NBA career. 11-time All-Star Ewing could score and rebound with the best centers of his day, like David Robinson, Hakeem Olajuwon, and Dikembe Mutombo. Although Ewing never won a championship, he was on 2 teams that made the NBA Finals (1994 and 1999) and won 2 Olympic gold medals (1984 and 1992). He established 2 NBA records for blocks in the NBA Finals (most blocks in a game and most blocks in a series), but both records have been eclipsed, series record by Tim Duncan, and the single game record by Dwight Howard. Struggling each year to overcome Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls in the playoffs, Ewing saw openings for a championship when Jordan retired in the 1994 and 1999 season. In 1999 Ewing suffered thru a sore Achilles all season, causing him to miss 12 games during the regular season. In the warm-ups before a Tuesday night Eastern Conference Finals game against the Indiana Pacers, Ewing partially tore his left Achilles tendon. Manning up, Ewing played thru the injury, scoring 10 points and grabbing 3 boards in 25 minutes. But, the injury was too severe and he was forced out of action by the Achilles injury. The underdog Knicks made a shocking run to the 1999 NBA Finals, where they succumbed to the San Antonio Spurs in 5 games. Ewing was only able to play another 3 seasons. The injury did not require surgery, but the Knicks traded Ewing the year after his injury for a multi-player deal centered around All-Star Glen Rice. Recently, Ewing was hired as an Assistant Coach for the Charlotte Bobcats, owned by his friend Michael Jordan.
Type of Tear: Complete Tear of Right Achilles
Age Injured: 32
Pre-Injury: 19.2 ppg 9.3 apg 1.9 spg 979 games
Post Injury: N/A
Hall of Fame point guard and clutch shot maker Isiah Thomas played 13 seasons, but his days as an NBA player concluded abruptly when he suffered a career-ending Achilles injury. He led a Detroit Pistons team—featuring Joe Dumars, Mark Aguirre, and Dennis Rodman—to back-to-back NBA championships (1989-1990), defeating Earvin “Magic” Johnson’s Lakers and Clyde Drexler’s Trailblazers in the Finals. 12-time All-Star Thomas won the 1990 Finals MVP in the series against the Blazers. The next season, Michael Jordan would lead the Chicago Bulls past Thomas and the Pistons after four consecutive playoff defeats at the hands of the Motor City. The Bulls swept the Pistons, and Jordan fulfilled his destiny to become a champion by beating Magic and the Lakers 4-1, the first of the Bulls back-to-back-to-back championships. After suffering a series of injuries his final season (1994)—cut left hand, calf injury, strained arch, broken rib, and a hyperextended knee—Thomas suffered an Achilles injury in April during a blowout 132-104 loss to the Orlando Magic. And, that was it. No comeback. Thomas would never play another game in the NBA. His is probably the most tragic case, a great career ended immediately at the hands of an Achilles injury.
Type of Tear: Ruptured Achilles Tendon
Age Injured: 32
Pre-Injury: 26.2 ppg 6.9 rpg 1.4 spg 762 games
Post Injury: 25.2 ppg 6.8 rpg 0.8 spg 312 games 5 seasons
+/- -1.0 ppg -0.1 rpg -0.6 spg
Wilkins, nicknamed “The Human Highlight Film,” was one of the great high-flyers, drivers, and most spectacular dunkers in NBA history. Wilkins is also the only player to make a successful comeback from a serious Achilles injury in recent NBA history. Will Kobe be the next one? Only time will tell. As for Wilkins, he still holds an NBA record for most free throws made in a game without a miss (23/23). Before his injury, Wilkins posted a career-high 30.3 ppg in 1985-1986. In a game against the 76ers on January 28th 1992, Wilkins suffered an Achilles injury, about 2 weeks after his birthday while playing for the Atlanta Hawks. Remarkably, after returning from his injury, Wilkins managed to score 29.9 ppg, even more than he scored the season before his injury (28.1 ppg). Dominique Wilkins is the anomaly, not the norm, when it comes to recovering from a serious Achilles injury. He played another 7 seasons professionally, going back and forth between the NBA and Europe during that time (1993-1999). His defense took a big hit after the injury, and so did his field goal percentage, which dropped from the high 40’s to the low 40’s. In his comeback, Wilkins did something Kobe Bryant cannot do. The former super-human high-fly act Wilkins reinvented himself as a three-point shooter. Nique, as Wilkins was also called, went from shooting 105 three-pointers in 1988-1989, to shooting 316 of them (1992-1993). 2 seasons after his injury, Wilkins shot a career-high 38.8% from beyond the arc. Bryant, already known as a great three-point shooter, will not be able to surprise defenders by pulling up from the outside, as defenders will expect him to do just that. Wilkins has talked a lot about Bryant’s injury. Recently, Wilkins told Grantland, “when I tore mine, like Kobe, it was a surprise. I tore mine completely in half. You do go through that ‘Why me?’ attitude and ‘Why now?” I did go through that phase. Now, being the competitor that he is, he has to refocus his thinking.”
Type of Tear: Torn Achilles Tendon
Age Injured: 36
Age Retired: 37
Pre-Injury: 27.5 ppg 13.6 rpg 4.3 apg 837 games
Post-Injury: 11.8 ppg 6.3 rpg 2.0 apg 9 games
+/- -15.7 ppg -7.3 rpg -2.3 apg
6’5 forward Baylor, widely regarded as one of the best players in NBA history, played his entire career with the Los Angeles Lakers and made 7 NBA Finals. He was a versatile scorer, a predecessor to Julius Erving, Michael Jordan, and Kobe Bryant, who could drive and score from virtually any angle and rebound like a center. Baylor set an NBA Finals record, scoring 61 points in game 5 of the 1962 NBA Finals against the Boston Celtics, and Baylor also set a regular season single game scoring record with 71 points. 13-year NBA veteran Baylor suffered a career-altering knee injury in 1965 and injuries limited him to 2 games the season before his Achilles injury. Baylor’s 13-year career ended in 1971 when he tore his Achilles tendon only 2 games into the 1970-1971 season. He played 9 games the following season before hanging it up. Feeling his playing days were done, Baylor admitted, “I do not want to prolong my career at a time when I cannot maintain these standards.” The Lakers went on to win 33 straight games that season en route to an NBA championship.
Type of Tear: Third Degree Tear Left Tendon (Complete Rupture)
Age Injured: 34
Pre-Injury: 25.4 ppg 5.3 rpg 4.8 apg 1.5 spg 1239 games
Post Injury: N/A
Bryant has made NBA history throughout his legendary career. He had a blazing four game streak of 50 points of more (2006-2007), the only second player to do so (the other: Wilt Chamberlain). That same season, he made history by scoring 81 points in one game, the second highest scoring output in NBA history, only second to Wilt’s 100 points. Bryant made history again this season, in a dubious manner, becoming arguably the greatest shooting guard ever to suffer a serious Achilles injury. Bryant has always been a fantastic athlete and a fast—almost superhuman—healer but his age (35 in August) and mileage 45,390, not including playoffs (8,641 minutes) or Olympic play (138 minutes), and the severity of his injury would be against him. For his career, Bryant’s played far more minutes than anyone else on this list, and more than Gerald Wilkins and Mehmet Okur combined. Bryant is 12th in NBA history for minutes played. The only current NBA player who has played more minutes is Kevin Garnett (47,801). As reported in the L.A. Times, Bryant talked to former L.A. Galaxy star soccer player David Beckham about his own Achilles injury. “He [David Beckham] and I talked for quite a bit about his process, and his recovery. He hasn’t had any issues with it since. He’s won several championships since the injury, so I’m pretty encouraged by that,” Bryant explained.
Next season, in typical L.A. fashion, Bryant’s every move will be scrutinized, his every grimace examined in slow motion and freeze-frame.
Bryant’s Career Highlights:
After hearing that ESPN has ranked his Lakers 12th in the Western Conference this coming season, Bryant tweeted “12th I see,” and remarked in a recent interview, “my tendon feels really, really good. I was really lucky.”
A well-known 1999 study in Scotland showed that males between the ages of 30 and 39 are most susceptible to Achilles injuries. Weekend warriors, or working professionals who play sports in their spare time are most susceptible to Achilles injuries. And, according to most doctors, if you are a weekend warrior like myself, two of the best ways to avoid suffering from an Achilles injury yourself are to (1) stretch and to (2) maintain your conditioning.
Bryant seems incredibly confident in his ability to return, even though most professional athletes find it very difficult to have a successful comeback from a serious Achilles injury. Few NBA players have successfully returned, most notably Dominique Wilkins, Elton Brand, and Arvydas Sabonis. Over the last 20 years, 61% of NBA players with serious Achilles injuries have returned to the league. In contrast, in the NFL, 31 players suffered from a ruptured Achilles tendon between 1997-2001 and only 32% (10/31) ever played professionally again.