How Dominic Wilkins and Kobe Bryant helped athletes overcome devastating injuries

The first thing Dominic Wilkins does is remember the pain in the back of her leg. The second thing is to prepare for the phone to ring.

Because when an NBA legend has accomplished what was previously considered impossible — recovering from a torn Achilles tendon — people want to know how she did it.

“I remember it like it was yesterday,” Wilkins said over the phone. “I’m sorry for anyone who had that. It’s a horrible, horrific injury.”

Directly and indirectly, Wilkins’ advice put all three American basketball teams in a position to win gold medals, because the 2.7-inch-wide torn tendon is what united the men’s basketball team with the women’s three-on-three and five-on-five teams. .

Kevin Durant, Brianna Stewart and Kelsey Bloom had injuries 14 months apart. The three made it to the Olympics representing the United States, recovering from an injury that Wilkins had unbelievably overcome nearly 30 years ago.

Kobe Bryant writhes in pain after rupturing his Achilles tendon in 2013.

(Robert Gautier/Los Angeles Times)

This has made him a mentor to many players who have had to face a recovery process that can last more than a year. And if the player didn’t talk to Wilkins about what it would take to get back to normal, that player would almost certainly have had that conversation with someone who actually spoke to the Hall of Famer.

When Kobe Bryant tore his Achilles tendon in 2013, studies showed that more than a third of players with that injury had never played another NBA game.

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So Bryant turned to the man who fared better than anyone before him, Wilkins, who somehow came back nine months after his tendon came off like the tip of his jaws to score 32 points in his first game.

“Kobe was a special person, very special to me,” Wilkins said. “He asked me, ‘How can you go back? What did you do?’ And so we shared different ideas about what it would take to get back to the level it was before.”

“You can’t rush, you can’t rush this injury,” he told Bryant. “You have to come back when you know you are ready. Not when others think you are ready. You just need to keep working.”

Years later, when Stewart tore his Achilles tendon while playing in Europe, he landed in Los Angeles with a message from Bryant on his phone, a player he admired but barely knew.

Bryant gave her his advice and told her she would be fine, and that he believed one of the best basketball players in the world could get back in shape.

“He was here to support me as best he could,” Stewart said. “And that was very important.”

Breanna Stewart controls basketball during the victory over Australia at the Tokyo Olympics.

Powerful American forward Brian Stewart controls the ball during her Olympic quarter-final win over Australia on Wednesday.

(Charlie Nybergal/The Associated Press)

Bryant gave Stewart the same advice he received from Wilkins.

“Don’t rush the process – I think it was one of the most important things Bryant said to me… and keep doing my best every single day. Because with this injury, there are days when you think about it, I don’t want to go to rehab. I don’t want to do That, I don’t see any progress. I don’t see a glimmer of hope. But we must move forward.”

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Wilkins and Bryant told Durant the same thing shortly after he ruptured his Achilles tendon at the 2019 finals, and the cameras caught him fracturing like a weary league.

Bloom, who had already won gold in these games with the US three-for-three team, was injured nearly a year after Durant and Stewart were injured. The three talked at length about recovery on Stewart’s podcast.

“It’s very inspiring,” Durant said of Stewart and Blum. “There are a lot of people here who have these injuries, especially the Achilles tendon, and a lot of people who don’t play sports have even approached me to tell me they had the same injury. I feel, in a strange way, that it’s a connection, not just with athletes, but with people in general. who deal with these things, because this process really tears you apart.”

About a year before Bloom won the gold medal, she was in bed, helpless, and unable to perform simple tasks like going to the bathroom without someone’s help. It was exhausting. Fortunately, he had teammates in America who knew exactly what he was going through.

And when the Olympics were postponed due to the pandemic, he had an idea.

Kelsey Bloom leads basketball past Olga Frolkina of the Russian Olympic Committee at the Tokyo Olympics

US 3v3 player Kelsey Bloom leads Olga Frolkina of the Russian Olympic Committee during a gold medal match on July 28.

(Jeff Roberson/The Associated Press)

“The thought popped into my head: ‘Oh, I have a chance. Bloom said.

was the first. Stewart and Durant lead their teams right behind her.

Durant was the best player among the men, dueling with Luka Doncic for being the best in the tournament. If the US wins gold, it will be in large part because of its game.

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“I’m very proud of him,” Wilkins said. “I am so proud to see how he came back. And then in qualifying, to see how dominant he was and how smoothly he moved, it was absolutely incredible.”

Stewart is coming off his best in the Olympics, 20 points in the first part of the quarterfinals, and pursuing the WNBA Championship in his first season.

But most importantly, they are all mentors to other players recovering from injury, a commitment that Akel Club members are happy to fulfill.

“It’s a community,” Stewart says. It’s a family of people who ruptured their Achilles tendon. Because it is not easy. It’s not easier to get over him mentally than physically. But if you have someone by your side that you know, you can beat them.”

It’s something Wilkins knows and what he’s trying to say to everyone who comes into contact with him.

“If Nick can do it, so can you.”

To read this note in Spanish, click here

Amber Cross

"Music buff. Unapologetic problem solver. Organizer. Social media maven. Web nerd. Incurable reader."

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