It seemed like a perfectly normal play. Isolated on the right wing, Randle looked his man up and down then took off using his quick first step to his right hand with a power dribble. Halfway through his move, he seemed to lose his balance, but still exploded towards the hoop, only to miss the shot and have his momentum (and what looked like a defender slightly riding him) take him to the ground. As the camera panned to the other direction, however, I noticed that Randle had not motioned to get up like most players would in that instance. Play continued the other direction and Randle still had not returned to the defensive side of the floor. On twitter, I wondered if he were hurt:
Of course, we have learned that Randle was hurt. On what can only be described as a freak of a play, Randle suffered a broken tibia on the drive. Reports from Ramona Shelburne this morning confirmed the injury:
If the four to six month timeline holds up, Randle’s rookie season is essentially over. Sure, he could be back in March or April, but that would be right at the tail end of the year with little to play for. Better to just sit him, let him have the entire year to rehab and regain strength and come back next year as strong as ever. That’s the hope, of course.
Hope is an interesting word here and is one of the reasons I did not (really, could not) write about Randle’s injury earlier. You see, hope is what Randle represented for me (and probably every other Lakers’ fan too). Hope of development from raw, yet skilled, big man to key contributor. Hope of the next great franchise player. Hope of turning games into watchable events from ones that, on many nights, would likely be the opposite. As I wrote in my season preview, watching this young man mature and grow with an eye on if he could develop into a mainstay contributor was enough reason to watch this team every night.
Those hopes, however, have been dashed. At least for this season. And that, all by itself, has made this season less fun in an amount wholly disproportionate than losing one player should.
As much as it’s easy to feel bad for myself or for other fans, those feelings pale in comparison to what I feel for Randle. In his first regular season professional game, with his mother in the stands, Randle made a play he’d made a thousand times before and had his leg crumple beneath him. As teammates surrounded him in attempts to check on and console him, reports on the ground say he was in severe physical pain. I can only imagine the emotional toll was (and remains) just as severe. In those moments, I would think it’s all too easy to drift into a spiral of negative thoughts — questioning not only your season, but your career. How could you not as medics need to stabilize your leg with an air cast just to be able to lift you onto a gurney to wheel you out off the court. It makes me sick for him just to type the words.
The Lakers now have multiple responsibilities. Yes, they have a season to play and owe it to themselves and the fans to go out and compete every night. Days will turn into weeks and then into months and the games will go on with winners and losers. The players who remain must leave those who cannot join them in the fray behind and compete for each other on the floor; to do their best by competing hard every night. On the other hand, they must remember Randle — a 19 year old rookie — and be there for him in a time that will surely produce some of the most difficult moments of his young life. While the team must play the games without him, the Lakers as an organization must be there for him to help him through this time by trying to ensure not only his physical, but his emotional well being. He will need a support system and the team must be a key part of that.
I spoke of hopes dashed earlier, but really they are just shifted. The new hope is that whatever greatness that was (potentially) pegged for Randle has only been delayed. In his rookie season, James Worthy suffered a similar injury (he spoke about this after the game) and noted that he turned out okay. Before Blake Griffin even played a regular season game his rookie season, he had surgery on his knee that cost him that first year. Three games into Michael Jordan’s second season, he broke his foot and missed all but 18 games. Jordan’s injury wasn’t as severe as these others (including Randle’s) but I include it here as a reminder that injuries happen and players recover to have long, full, and, hopefully, historic careers.
So get well soon, Julius Randle. Your team will miss you. Us fans will miss you. But you’ll be back and hopefully better than ever.