His comeback indigenous an Achilles tear has actually tilted the NBA’s balance the power. Just how did he do it? Durant’s surgeon and also rehab team explain.


It takes a special type of emergency to leaving a meal at Rao’s. 

Martin O’Malley to be eating dinner at the classic Italian restaurant in new York, where it is almost impossible to publication a table, one night in June 2019 as soon as he feel his son kick him. The gold State warriors were playing the Toronto Raptors in the NBA Finals—and O’Malley’s former patient had just ruptured his Achilles tendon. The surgeon would not it is in savoring his meatballs.

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Kevin Durant was at the height of his game at the moment he crumbled to the court. He had actually nudged LeBron James aside together the best player ~ above the planet. He to be pursuing a championship three-peat v the Warriors. He was currently 30 year old and ready to hit complimentary agency in the element of his career. 

Instead he would miss out on a full season v basketball’s most damaging injury. It was such a grim breakthrough that warrior president Bob Myers cried when he announced Durant’s injury. That didn’t need to say the the overwhelming bulk of NBA stars that come ago from torn Achilles tendons are never ever themselves again. 


It would certainly take 18 months of rehab and also some unlikely pandemic luck, yet what started that night to be an improbable comeback that would certainly tilt the league’s balance that power. 


There is nothing about Durant that suggests he is diminished in any way. He looks the same. The looks brilliant. The is scoring practically 30 point out per video game with the greatest shooting percentages the his career. It would be a letdown if this Brooklyn Nets team with Durant, James Harden and also Kyrie Irving perfect the season with anything much less than the best offense in NBA history. 

But there’s another measure the Durant’s return that’s plain to see and harder to calculate. The most renowned topic of NBA speculation prior to this season was exactly how long his injury would certainly linger. The Nets had signed one all-time an excellent player—and the league’s greatest source of variance. If he were 50% the his former self, they to be in trouble. If he to be closer to 90%, they to be in contention. What nobody expected was the he can be 100%. 

“I’m Kevin Durant,” he claimed in 2019, prior to his injury. “You recognize who ns am.” 

The people has done a couple of back flips since then, yet there is one component of the basketball world that hasn’t to be turned upside down: he’s still Kevin Durant. 


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Kevin Durant to be injured throughout the 2019 NBA Finals. Photo: Gregory Shamus/Getty images

But nothing about his comeback to be guaranteed. That takes basketball players with Achilles ruptures about 10 month to return, though Durant to be always an ext likely to be exceptional than average. A rehab of 10 months would have actually normally corresponded with the 2020 playoffs, so it appeared doubtful the he would return last season. Wait for this season would certainly have provided him 16 months in a normal year.

Then came a pandemic year. Durant decided not to join the Nets in the NBA’s bubble last summer. By the time he finally took the floor again, it had actually been 18 months due to the fact that his critical game. 

That delay appears to have actually been precious it because that Durant—and for the Nets. They offered him a four-year contract learning they would certainly pay that $38 million to not play because that a year, and not discovering what type of player they would acquire for the following three. There was a good reason for the uncertainty. Basketball players would rather shatter their legs, rip their ACLs or break anything in your bodies than rupture your Achilles tendons. 

“It provided to it is in the kiss that death,” stated Robert Anderson, a surgeon who has treated Durant. “You had an Achilles rupture, her career was done.” 

Not anymore. Medicine adjusted over several decades. Science did, too. Past results would certainly not be indicative of Durant’s future performance as he flew to new York to satisfy with his surgeon. 

O’Malley walked out of Rao’s and spent the rest of the night top top the phone—he took a fast break for dessert—with a hunch the he would soon have the fate the the NBA in his hands. The rest of the week was a blur. Durant had actually to be whisked indigenous Toronto to the Hospital for Special surgical treatment without anyone noticing the exceptionally famous, very tall male with a limp. A fill of Knicks fans, desperate for hope and also bound for disappointment, waited exterior the doctor’s office. But after operating on Durant’s very same foot in 2015, O’Malley already had the trust of his patient.

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“I have actually this continuous relationship v him,” that said. “And his feet.” 

The procedure itself to be easy. O’Malley sewed the 2 ends that Durant’s tendon earlier together and set the tension. Then come the tricky part. The modern principles that tendon healing speak to for beforehand motion and early weight-bearing, so Durant was the end of his rail in 24 hours and also began cold laser therapy and resistance training in ~ 36 hours. The recovery was under way. 

By now the NBA season to be over and also Durant was a cost-free agent. O’Malley, that happens to be the Nets’ team orthopedist, made a house contact on June 30 and also was ringing Durant’s bell as soon as his phone call buzzed. His son damaged the news to him again: Durant was signing through Brooklyn. “There was never even a hint,” O’Malley says. 

Durant left for a summer in Los Angeles the next day. His physiotherapist relocated in v him. 

Dave Hancock’s days through Durant had 90 minute of tedious morning treatment, a gym workout, 90 minute of exhausting afternoon treatment and evening poolwork. Castle ordered an antigravity treadmill. They strapped him v biosensors as they replicated the mechanics the his favorite moves. They concentrated on his entire body, “from his neck come his toe,” Hancock said, together O’Malley watched by FaceTime. Everything they go was supposed to prevent the Achilles native stretching. A long tendon is a weak tendon. They had actually to keep it tight. 

But for all the sources they poured into a couple of inches of organization worth a couple of hundred million dollars, his brothers housemate stated the crucial to Durant’s rehab was an unpredictable facet that different by patient. 

“A the majority of this, in mine experience, is difficult bloody work,” Hancock said. 


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Kevin Durant is scoring virtually 30 points per video game with the highest shooting percentages of his career. Photo: buy it Stier/Getty images

Next come the handoff earlier to the Nets. They to be so cautious in this precarious stage that Hancock moved earlier to Brooklyn v Durant. As the process continued in the team’s exercise facility, they could track precisely how he to be progressing. Castle didn’t need to ask Durant exactly how he felt. They might look in ~ his data. In that way there has never to be a better time come tear your Achilles. 

“That last step of go back to play has constantly been a hocus-pocus black color box,” claimed Neal ElAttrache, a surgeon who specializes in sporting activities medicine. “Now it’s much more objective.”

(Durant declined to comment and also the Nets declined to do their power staff obtainable for comment.)

It’s a deluxe of being an NBA star under contract the a player’s incentives tend to be aligned through his team’s. When the Nets report to the bubble in July, it had been 13 months since Durant’s injury, however they left the behind to keep rehabbing. The dangers weren’t precious the rewards. This cost-benefit analysis bought Durant five much more valuable months and bumped his chances of a effective comeback. 

That intriguing decision can make various other NBA teams rethink what they assumed they knew around Achilles tears. Many players come ago from a 10-month rehab the following season and also don’t feeling comfortable again until their second season. 

But the timing of Durant’s surgery, his physics therapy and the pandemic conspired to his unanticipated advantage: His an initial season came to be that 2nd season. 

The result is that he’s made a ruptured Achilles look much more like a sprained ankle—and his surgeon claims he can be a version for athletes with this ruinous injury in the future. “At 2 years,” O’Malley said, “they should method a full recovery.” 

Two years for Durant is the center of June. It’s additionally the center of the NBA playoffs. 

Write to Ben Cohen at ben.cohen

appeared in the February 13, 2021, print edition as "Kevin Durant to win The Worst Injury In Basketball."