Basketball is a beautiful game, now more than ever. The players are faster and more athletic, with mind-boggling body control, demonstrating an astonishing combination of speed, power and delicacy. The game is never brutal, unless you count the spectacular throw-down dunks from gravity-defying players. The rules require that certain kinds of contact be judged a foul, and in recent years the rules have been tightened to help protect players against injuries. Elbow someone in the head and you’re likely to be hit with a “flagrant 1″ or “flagrant 2″ (the latter of which requires immediate ejection from the game). The sport’s long-term prospects are bright compared to football, which has yet to figure out how to overcome the very serious problem of neurological damage, not to mention the blown-out knees. So, no, we don’t watch basketball expecting to see someone hurt, and none of us were prepared Sunday for what we saw happen to Kevin Ware.
If you saw Ware’s injury [it happened with about 6 minutes left in the first half of the Louisville-Duke “Elite 8″ NCAA tournament game] you don’t need me to describe it. If you didn’t see it, you still probably don’t need me to describe it. The announcers got it right: This was something we’d never seen before. Look away is my advice.
But here’s what we also saw: Courage. We saw young men overcome a ghastly event. Kevin Ware somehow remained conscious and composed enough to tell his Louisville teammates to win the game. The doctors who attended him seemed calm in the crisis. The players on both sides were devastated, many of them collapsing to the floor when they saw the injury, but they managed to pull themselves together and continue the game after the 10-minute delay. And the CBS crew handled it correctly: The producers showed only two replays, both from a distance, and the network didn’t show the injury after that. Louisville went on to win the game for Ware and brought him the trophy in the hospital, where he reportedly underwent successful surgery on his leg. The shot of Ware, asleep, holding the trophy in his hospital bed is surely the photograph of the day [here’s another where he’s awake] and of this year’s NCAA tournament. According to sportsillustrated.com, Ware called his mother from the hospital before he went into surgery, and said: “Calm down, Mom. I’m okay.” Talk about grace under pressure. That’s a tough, and very admirable, young man.
Update: My colleague Lenny Bernstein is preparing a story on the injury and I’ll link to it when he’s done. [Here it is.] It’s possible that there was an existing undiagnosed stress fracture in that leg, and the awkward way that Ware landed caused the leg to snap.