I had run that play countless times.
Last year with the Utah Jazz, it was one of our signature plays. I’d get an alley-oop from Joe Ingles almost once a game off it. This time, it was a drawn-out play where I had two options: come off a pin-down, or go back door.
From what I remember, I’d set up Jae Crowder so I could go back door, and had a step on him when Kyrie threw up the pass. I went up to try and go get it, and right at that moment, LeBron James came over from the other side. So I had one guy behind me, one guy in front of me, and we all were trying to get the ball up top.
There’s been a lot of times when I’ve been knocked off balance in the air. There’s been times when I’ve had close calls, when I’ve come down pretty hard. And for the most part, I’ve always been fine. I just bounced right back up.
This time didn’t feel any different when I was in the air. I mean, I knew—there’s a moment when you’re in the air and you’re knocked off balance, and you realize, “Oh no, I’m about to come down hard.” But a lot of times, you’re able to kind of adjust your body in the air so you come down flat, and don’t land on anything you can hurt that badly.
This time, my leg got caught underneath me.
Immediately, I knew something was off, but when I landed, it wasn’t a huge amount of pain. I rolled over and saw my foot, and it was pointed in completely the wrong direction. My first thought was, “Oh. This isn’t good. There’s something very wrong here.” I felt a sense of panic come over me and signaled to the ref, “Hey, look at this. You’ve got to stop the game.” And still, it didn’t seem like it was hurting that much.
Then all of a sudden, it came.
It was like once my brain figured out what had happened, I was hit with shots of pain. The training staff came running over to me super fast, but however long it was—three seconds, five seconds—I just remember sitting there, looking at my foot the wrong way, and it felt like an eternity. Dr. Rosneck, the Cavaliers doctor, braced me as he explained that they wanted to try and pop my ankle back into place. I held on, and the moment they did it, there was just a massive shot of pain, probably the most pain I’ve ever felt in my life.
At that point, the medical staff started to load me onto the cart. My leg was still throbbing, and my mind was all over the place. I remember LeBron coming over. I know I talked to Kyrie and a bunch of my teammates and coaches. All of them were wishing me well and praying for me, I think. Everything was a blur. It was when the trainers were carting me off that I was just hit with this wave of emotion. All I could think was that it’s all over. I did all this work. I moved to a new team. And now this happens.
What is this going to do to me? Am I going to be able to come back? To play again? Am I done? Is my career over?
What do I do now?
It was supposed to be a very different night.
Opening night. Everybody was pumped. The NBA was back. Kyrie was coming back to Cleveland. Some people were booing him. Others were cheering. It felt like a big-time game, going against LeBron and the Cavs, and being part of that rivalry. I was excited more than anything, ready to finally get the season started.
But now, instead of competing in the game that had been talked about since the summer, I was in one of the training rooms at the Q, getting X-rays. The first person who talked to me back there was Isaiah Thomas. He was already back there in a training room. I can’t remember exactly what he said, but I know he said a prayer for me, like right next to me. He was just there for me. I’ve learned in a short time what a special guy Isaiah is.
When the X-rays were done, the doctors told me, “Look. You have a broken ankle. We are going to make some calls, and figure out what everybody wants you to do.” For the moment, the plan was to fly back to Boston with the team, go straight to the hospital and make more decisions tomorrow.
My wife Robyn had called, but I hadn’t talked to her yet. She was getting updates basically from right after it happened. Finally, they put her on the phone. She just kept saying, “I’m so sorry. I wish I could be there to help you. I wish I could take the pain away from you. What do you need me to do?” It’s going to be okay. God has a plan.”
At that point, I was wheeled back to the locker room, and I waited for the game to end.
That felt like the longest half of basketball ever. Everyone was trying to console me, and tell me it was going to be okay. I knew they had good intentions, but all I could think about was the anxiety and stress running through my head. I was wishing there was something I could do that could make it feel better, that could make it get healed magically. My thoughts started to go to a very dark place.
In my mind, I kept seeing my ankle bent the wrong way.
There was no way it was going to be okay.
And even if it was going to be okay, it was going to be a while before it was going to be okay.
After the game, they took me in an ambulance to the team plane. My leg was wrapped in a small, soft cast type of thing to keep it stable on the flight. I’d had some Tylenol, but nothing like hardcore pain medicine. So my ankle was throbbing pretty good, and pretty much stayed that way until we reached the hospital in Boston.
Getting me onto the plane wasn’t easy. I was on a stretcher, and I had to get carried up two flights of stairs. They needed four people to carry me, and Coach Stevens was one of those four people. There were probably 25 other people there that all wanted to help, but he wanted to make sure he was one of the people to do it. I mean…that’s just the person he is.
My parents, who had come to the game, wound up flying home with me—my mom sitting next to me, my dad across from me. Our trainers, Art Horne and Brian Dolan, were there helping me, too. They had a table where I could put my leg up and keep it elevated, so I sat there in the chair the whole flight, and tried not to move.
On the flight back, my teammates all came by to encourage me. It was very emotional for me to see how all of these new teammates of mine, guys who I had only spent a few weeks with at that point, were so sincere about their concern for me. Their support has at times overwhelmed me and it will not be forgotten.
BACK IN BOSTON
Robyn met me at the airport and rode with me in another ambulance to the hospital. That was good, just to see her and have her there. Coach Stevens, his wife Tracy, and our assistant general manager, Mike Zarren, followed the ambulance and stayed with us while we checked in. That was pretty incredible considering that we had just played a game, and there was another game the next night. It’s not like they could do anything for me, and it was two o’clock in the morning or something like that. But they stayed for a bit just to make sure we were okay. Then Robyn and I tried to get a few hours sleep.
At six, the doctors came in, and told us that they wanted to do a formal X-ray, a CAT scan, and an MRI. They wanted to get a 360-degree view of my foot. So we spent the rest of the morning doing tests, and then the rest of the day trying to figure out what we wanted to do with the surgery.
The next day was moving in slow-motion. Danny Ainge came by and offered me some advice with the surgery. At some point, Coach Stevens came back and stayed with me for a bit. He asked if we needed anything from him, and although I don’t remember this, people say that I asked him for a basketball. I must have, because when I got home a couple days later, Tracy had brought one by.
There were so many decisions that had to be made regarding the surgery. I wasn’t in the best frame of mind to help with the decisions, so I just listened to all of the the different ideas and suggestions, and allowed those I trust most to digest everything, and help me come to a final decision. All I knew was that I just wanted to get the surgery completed and get on the road to recovery. Finally, at 6:30 PM, we came to a consensus to do the surgery that night.
Right before the surgery, Heather Walker from the Celtics suggested that we make a video that could be shown to the fans in Boston for the home opener. I thought it was a great idea, but at that point, I hadn’t really slept since the injury. I had been asleep maybe a total of three hours in the last 24 hours. We had just decided that we were moving ahead with the surgery. I was still trying to get my mind wrapped around the fact that I wasn’t playing in the home opener. So I didn’t know what to say. But I had received so many messages, I wanted to at least reach out and say thank you to everyone that had sent their thoughts and prayers my way.
The initial diagnosis from the doctors was pretty good. “If you were going to have a horrific leg injury, this would be the one to have,” they basically told me. As bad as it looked, they said I’d have a full recovery if the surgery went well.
As far as the plan for surgery, it had three parts. First was fixing the bone, which was the most straightforward and easy thing. Next was fixing the ligaments that I tore, and that was relatively straightforward, too. The third part was the unknown, and the only thing that concerned the medical staff.
There was a little blip on the scans that might show potential cartilage damage. If that was the case, it wouldn’t be good.
“What does that mean?” I asked.
They wouldn’t know until they opened up my foot, they said.
Not long after, the doctors were like, “All right. We’re ready to finally get you to go to surgery.” I was relieved that it was finally going to happen. I was praying that it was going to go well, and that nothing was going to be wrong with that little cartilage spot. And I just wanted it done and over with.
They prepped me and gave me the anesthesia. When I woke up, I was super groggy, and my foot was throbbing and heavy, with a huge wrap on it. It was five o’clock in the morning, and all I wanted to do was sleep, but I remember calling the nurse. When she walked in, I asked, “How did it go? What did they say? Can someone tell me what happened?” And she said, “The doctor will tell you in the morning, but from what I know, the surgery went well. You should try to get some sleep.”
A few hours later, the doctors came in. The surgery had been really successful. The cartilage from the scan wasn’t related to the injury, and wasn’t a concern. Everything had gone extremely well.
That was really good to hear.
SETTLING IN AT HOME
When I got home a couple days later, we put a hospital bed in the family room so that I could be around Robyn and our two daughters, Bernie and Charlie.
The girls both lit up when I got back from the hospital, but they were confused by what was on my foot. They were confused by the crutches, too. (Bernie is two; Charlie is one.) What they both loved was the scooter I got to ride around on. They thought it was the best thing ever. The scooter has a little basket on it, and Bernie is obsessed with things that have baskets. She has this little shopping cart, and she has this little stroller that she puts her little baby or her little stuffed doggy in. She wanted me to ride around with her doggy in my basket, which was pretty comical.
And of course, because I was on the scooter, riding around on it, both of them wanted to ride on the scooter by themselves. They also didn’t want anybody to help them, which was completely unsafe, because they’re both really unstable on it. But Bernie was pretty funny. She’d get on the scooter and try to put her foot up just like I put my foot up on it. It was funny to watch her do that—and pretty amazing, honestly, that at two years old, she realized what I was doing, and wanted to imitate me.
Bernie is also obsessed with booboos, so we told her that Daddy has a big booboo. If I was in the room, she would run in and keep saying, “Mama! Mama! Daddy has a booboo!” until Robyn would say, “Yes. Okay. I see that he has a booboo.” Then Bernie would go up to it, kiss it, and give it a hug to try to make it feel better—because that is what we’ve done when she’s had a booboo, right? One of Bernie’s favorite shows is Doc McStuffins. She likes to pretend to be the doctor.
So when it comes to my injury, Bernie is loving it right now.
As far as Charlie went, she didn’t know what was going on, but she knew that something was going on, and she didn’t want to be left out. She just kind of ran around and followed her sister, and wanted me to hold her when I was riding the scooter. So I did.
My recovery is just beginning, but already, I have a lot of people to thank.
The first person is Robyn. There’s a lot of things in my life that I wouldn’t have been able to get through without her—especially in the last few months. When I was sitting in the locker room in Cleveland, one of the first thoughts that went through my head was, “Now what is Robyn going to do? Now she’s got two young kids plus me to take care of.”
From the first minute we spoke, she was like, “Don’t worry about me. I’ll be fine.” She was there with me at the hospital the whole time. Ever since I’ve been home, she has been a superstar as far as getting me everything that I need, dealing with everyone, trying to update them about what’s going on. There’s a bunch of pills that I’m on right now that she has to regulate. You can only take so many per hour. She’s got a chart marked down for all that. She’s also been really encouraging. “We’re going to come back from this stronger than ever,” she tells me. “You’re going to be fine. But we’re going to have to work at it, so get off your ass and start now!”
She makes me laugh.
She’s just really supportive and helpful, and I can’t thank her enough for that.
I’m also grateful for the outpouring of support I’ve received. I cannot believe all the messages from everyone. There were so many people wishing me the best, and having me in their thoughts and prayers.
Lots of you sent tweets or messages, and probably weren’t sure if I would even read them. Please know, I’ve done my best to read each and every one of them. I can’t tell you how much they have helped me get through these past few weeks.
At a time when it feels like your world is caving in, you begin to realize how lucky you are to have people from all over supporting you.
I’m especially grateful for everyone in the NBA family that has reached out, and reinforced just how special it is to be part of such a special fraternity.
I’ve only been in Boston a short period of time, so to have the Red Sox and Patriots players share videos and messages wearing my jersey was just incredible. The entire Boston community—from the professional athletes to what I’m quickly learning is an amazing Celtics fan base—has overwhelmed me. I’ve made one basket as a Celtic, and yet all of these people have made me feel like I’ve been in Boston my entire career.
I really appreciated hearing from other people who’d also had season-ending injuries—guys like Odell Beckham Jr. and J.J. Watt. For them to reach out after what happened to them is pretty cool. Paul George contacted me immediately after I got hurt. He was somebody that I was texting back and forth with. I was there with him back when he suffered a similar injury. He knows better than anyone, maybe, exactly what it is I’m going through, and will be going through. I’m thankful that he reached out right away, and that’s he’s someone I can continue to talk to.
Kobe Bryant posted a message of support on Instagram, and then sent me an email. Kobe is somebody that I have leaned on and he has been in my corner since I’ve worked out with him. I can’t say enough about what it means to have his support, somebody who’s one of the all-time greats, and has basically been through it all. He didn’t have the same, exact thing happen, but he had a devastating injury that he had to recover from. That email meant a lot.
And then there was the Utah Jazz. I had such a tough decision to leave this summer and yet everyone from ownership, to front office, coaches and all my teammates were immediately there for me. They continue to show that they are first class in every way and I am so fortunate to have been a part of that organization.
Barack Obama sent me an email, too. That was a pretty big deal.
I need to say a special thank you to Dr. McKeon, Dr. Schena and Dr. Slovenkai, who operated on me at New England Baptist Hospital. As well as a big shout out to Dr. Porter who consulted every step of the way. They all reworked their schedules around to make sure I got the best medical attention imaginable.
Finally, the Celtics organization has been just over the top in every aspect. They know I will not be back on the court at all this season, but they have been making sure I have every resource I need, and are making me feel like I am a part of the team. The entire Celtics family is filled with so many incredibly caring people.
I honestly can’t say enough about everyone’s kindness.
So what do I do now?
I’ve started by watching the games. At first, it was just grueling to try and watch. I was overwhelmed with frustration, knowing that I can’t be a part of it right now. I’m not even with the team. It’s hard mentally to watch the games because I’m sitting here thinking, “I’m not going to be able to help the team on the court this year.”
But I’ve decided that has to stop. I have to change that way of thinking. I know I can’t help them physically on the court, but I am going to do everything in my power to support my teammates and coaches in every way imaginable. Whether it’s breaking down film or just providing leadership and guidance, I can’t wait to give back. I’ve already received so much.
We have such a young, exciting team filled with incredible character guys. I owe it to all of them to find my way to contribute. Some of the younger players will have to grow up a little quicker than was planned. They’re going to be thrust into situations where they’ll have a lot more responsibility. But this will be terrific for their careers. There is nothing better than experience in the NBA, and they’re going to get a lot of it. I still believe that by the end of the season, we can be something truly special.
I keep imagining what it’s going to be like to step onto the floor at the Garden, and make my regular season debut as a Celtic. It’s going to be a little delayed. But with each day of my rehab, I’ll be that much closer to making it happen. I’m already dreaming about sharing that moment with everyone here in Boston—a city that I’m still getting to know, but that I’ve connected with through all of this in ways beyond anything I could have imagined.
Now, it’s all about getting back.
Time to begin.