Ware did not touch a soul. He simply landed awkwardly in front of his team’s bench after trying, and failing, to block a three-point shot by Duke’s Tyler Thornton, snapping the tibia and fibula of his right leg. One broken bone stuck through Ware’s skin.
“It’s a torsional injury,” said Craig H. Bennett, head orthopedic surgeon for University of Maryland athletics, who has seen only two similar injuries in the past decade. “It’s a rotational injury, and all the stress gets concentrated on one area.”
Normally, he said, knee or ankle ligaments would have absorbed the stress of Ware’s twisting leap, tearing if the forces were too great, or doing their job and sending him back to the court. But Ware landed in just the wrong way, Bennett believes. The result was an injury that is likely to be remembered as long as the NCAA tournament is played.
Another, less likely possibility, said Frederick Azar, an orthopedic surgeon and spokesman for the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons, is that Ware had a weak spot in the bone, possibly from an undiagnosed stress fracture. Such fractures can result from the constant pounding on a basketball player’s legs. More rarely, a cyst or benign tumor can create a weakness. But only Ware’s doctors would know, Azar said.
Ware’s injury conjured up memories of the 1985 play that ended the career of Washington Redskins quarterback Joe Theisma
nn. Theismann’s right tibia and fibula were broken when he was hit by New York Giants linebackers Lawrence Taylor and Harry Carson as a national audience watching “Monday Night Football” looked on in horror. Younger Redskins fans may have been reminded of the unnatural angle of Robert Griffin III’s lower right leg as he crumpled to the ground with torn knee ligaments in January’s playoff loss to the Seattle Seahawks.
Ware’s injury may be closer to the one sustained in 1989 by Cincinnati Bengals lineman Tim Krumrie, who broke his tibia in two places and his fibula in another when he landed awkwardly while trying to make a tackle during Super Bowl XXIII.
Krumrie not only refused to go to the hospital, he watched the game from the locker room until paramedics warned that he could go into shock. He was back for the start of the next season and continued his streak of consecutive games played.
Doctors operated on Ware for about two hours Sunday night, the University of Louisville said, setting the bone, inserting a rod made of titanium or stainless steel in Ware’s tibia, and closing the wound in his skin. The 36-to-40-centimeter-long rod (14 to 15 inches) will probably remain in his leg unless it or the screws that hold it in place cause him pain, Azar said.