NAME: Shaquille O'Neal, Kristen Clement, Mateen Cleaves
TEAMS: Los Angeles Lakers, Tennessee Lady Vols, Michigan State Spartans
POSITIONS: Center, guard, guard
OTHER ATHLETES AFFECTED
Football: Ricky Williams, New Orleans Saints; Tony Banks, Baltimore Ravens; Basketball: Karl Malone, Utah Jazz; Eric Murdock and Brian Skinner, L.A. Clippers; Derrick Coleman, Charlotte Hornets; Kelvin Cato, Houston Rockets; Baseball: Todd Dunwoody, Kansas City Royals; Phil Nevin, San Diego Padres; Hockey: J.J. Daigneault, Phoenix Coyotes; Pavel Trnka, Anaheim Mighty Ducks
HOW IT HAPPENED
After clinching the best record for the season on April 5 by scoring 49 points against the Warriors -- and assuring the Lakers home court advantage in the playoffs -- O'Neal's left ankle flared up. He sought treatment from the team trainer an hour before the next game. He also has a sore shoulder, a hamstring strain, and has complained of general fatigue.
Kristen "Ace" Clement, as she is nicknamed, twisted her ankle in the morning warm-up the morning of the NCAA championship game. X-rays showed that there were no broken bones, and she was treated before the game. But she entered the arena the night of the game on crutches and was visibly limping as she walked onto the floor.
Cleaves injured his ankle during the third quarter of the men's NCAA championship game. The injury looked devastating, but he was able to return to the game later that quarter. He needed crutches after the game to stand for the celebration.
In O'Neal's sophomore season at LSU (1990-1991), he averaged 27.6 points and 14.7 rebounds and shot .628 from the field. His rebounding average led the nation, and he was named national Player of the Year by a majority of polls. O'Neal joined the Orlando Magic at age 20 as the number one pick of the 1992 draft. In seven seasons, he has captured a scoring title and two field goal accuracy crowns and powered the Magic into the NBA Finals. He was the youngest participant ever in the NBA All-Star Game and was named 1993 NBA Rookie of the Year. Following the 1994-1995 season, O'Neal was named to the 1996 "Dream Team," which won the gold medal at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta. He signed with the Los Angeles Lakers as a free agent prior to the 1996-1997 season.
O'Neal was the first player in NBA history to be named Player of the Week in his first week in the league. He was named to the All-NBA First Team in 1997-1998, to the All-NBA Second Team in 1994-1995, and to the All-NBA Third Team in 1993-1994, 1995-1996, and 1996-1997. He has been the NBA Player of the Month six times in his career.
Clement is the Lady Vols floor leader and emotional captain. Clement is averaging 5.6 points and a team-high 3.5 assists. She is from the Philadelphia suburb of Broomall, Pa.
Cleaves is a senior point guard and leader for the Spartans. He scored 18 points and had 4 assists in the final and had an incredible tournament. All of his shots came before the injury.
WHAT IS AN ANKLE SPRAIN?
According to the American College of Foot and Ankle Surgeons, ankle sprains are the most common athletic injury. The bones joined in the ankle are connected by ligaments as they form a socket in which the ankle joint moves. When an ankle is sprained, a ligament is either stretched, partially torn, or completely torn. Nearly 85% of ankle sprains occur laterally, or on the outside of ankle joints. Sprains on the inside ligaments are less common.
An ankle sprain involves the stretching or tearing of a ligament around the ankle. The injury occurs when the ankle is twisted or forced to bend in directions where the tendons and muscles offer no support. There are three grades of ankle sprains, and it is expected that O'Neal has a Grade 1 sprain, while both college players have Grade 2 sprains. A Grade 1 sprain (mild) involves a stretching of the ligament without a tear. A Grade 2 (moderate) sprain usually involves a partial tear or a complete tear with moderate symptoms. A Grade 3 sprain involves a complete tear with severe swelling, tenderness, and bleeding.
The injury is diagnosed through clinical exam. Physicians can test the ankle for pain and flexibility, and because the injury has symptoms very similar to those of a fracture, X-rays are always taken as a precautionary measure. The degree of injury can be found by clinical exam, patient feedback, and, ultimately, an MRI.
The common sprain is treated with RICE -- rest, ice, compression, and elevation. Immediately after the injury, the patient usually has the area immobilized and is usually on crutches for some time. Athletes are generally either unable to return to action, as in Clement's case, or not given clearance to return to action. In more severe cases, non-weight-bearing activities are encouraged, and crutches may be recommended. Compression, which eliminates motion around the ankle joint, may require that an elastic bandage, splint, short leg cast, or brace be worn.
Some doctors believe that it was an unnecessary risk for Cleaves to re-enter the game. He could have sustained a far more serious injury that could have jeopardized his NBA draft status and future career.
Sprained ankles are not easily prevented. The ankle can be taped and the athlete can wear high-top sneakers, but even with this added stability, the injury cannot be completely avoided. Stretching and strengthening can also decrease the chances of injuring the ankle, but only to a point. Athletes who play on a hard surface such as a basketball court are at high risk, and with all the jumping involved in that sport, it is not uncommon for an athlete to twist or "roll" an ankle.
The recovery period for sprained ankles is usually around 3-6 weeks. This includes 7-14 days of immobilization and a slow program to regain strength and stability. There will probably be a period of 'rustiness' and a possible lack of some strength once the athlete returns to the game. In more severe cases, ligaments may require more healing time to promote ankle stability. Repeated ankle sprains may cause chronic instability, interfering with walking or sports activities. In this case, the physician may recommend a surgical procedure to tighten or create new ligaments around the ankle joint to re-establish its stability.
This is an injury that can often recur. However, there is a very slim chance of the injury soon recurring for the two college athletes because the injuries occurred prior to their final games of the year. With proper rest, O'Neal should be at full strength for the NBA playoffs. If the athlete allows the injury to fully heal, the chance of reinjury greatly declines.