Is a new line of Nike basketball shoes to blame for what seems to be an abundance of injuries? Perhaps there is just more media attention given to the injuries, but it seems that this season, more than others, there have been more foot and knee injuries to key players in college basketball.
Two Final Four teams were limited due to foot injuries, and both teams failed to advance to the national championship game. Michigan State’s Kalin Lucas, a first-team All-Big Ten selection, suffered an Achilles’ tendon injury during the NCAA Tournament that sidelined him for the remainder of the season. Spartan guard Chris Allen played sparingly after suffering a sprained arch in his right foot earlier in the NCAA Tournament. The Spartans, playing without Lucas, were defeated by two points by Butler in the national semifinals.
West Virginia had to finish its tournament run without its point guard after Truck Bryant broke a bone in his foot during practice. Then in the second half of their loss to Duke, the Mountaineers saw All-American Da’Sean Butler go down with an ACL tear and MCL sprain to his left knee after he planted while dribbling toward the baseline.
Duke was also the beneficiary of a less-than-healthy squad in the Sweet 16, when it beat Purdue minus its top player, Robbie Hummel. The Boilermakers were widely regarded as a Final Four contender before Hummel tore the ACL in his right knee in the last month of the season after planting on a drive similar to the way Butler was injured. The Boilermakers also played the first half of the season without starting point guard Lewis Jackson, who had surgery after sustaining cartilage damage in his foot, and freshman Sandi Marcius missed the entire season because of a broken bone in his foot.
The list of key players sustaining injuries to their feet or knees could go on and on. But the one thing the above-mentioned players have in common is that they were all at Nike-sponsored basketball programs and had the option of wearing a new lightweight line of Nike basketball shoes—the Nike Hyperize or Hyperdunk.
And the connection between the shoes and injuries hasn’t just been Internet message board speculation by fans frustrated to see top players from their favorite teams sidelined. Detroit Pistons strength and conditioning coach Arnie Kander reportedly tried to ban the Pistons from wearing the Nike Hyperize shoe earlier this season after he saw an unusual number of ankle injuries to his players. Kander has been with the Pistons for 18 years.
“I’m not going to name the brand of shoe it was, but it has been banned from our locker room and the guys aren’t allowed to wear it,” Kander was quoted as saying. “These shoes had taken most of the support out of the sides and it was a lighter shoe. Most basketball shoes weigh between 1.4 and 1.7 pounds. These shoes were weighing 0.8 pounds, which was way too light as far as side support. Since we’ve banned the shoe, knock on wood, we haven’t had any ankle sprains.”
Randy Meador, West Virginia University’s coordinator of athletic training services, said Mountaineer players have four different options of Nike shoes they can wear. He said he has not seen an increase of foot injuries this season, citing Bryant as the only player to sustain a foot injury. “We really did not notice a problem with shoes this year,” Meador said.
Michigan State coach Tom Izzo and his players take a similar stance, although Allen still switched to an older, heavier Nike shoe after his injury in order to provide more support.
After Allen and then Lucas went down with injuries, Michigan State director of sports medicine Jeff Kovan told the Detroit Free Press he would look into any possible correlation between the injuries and the Nike Hyperdunk shoes that the Spartans wear.
“Is there a problem with that shoe?” Kovan asked. “Well, obviously Arnie Kander has had a lot of problems, and I respect [his] decision. For us, we haven’t really seen a lot of problems. We’ve had sprains we’ve had every year. Therefore, yeah, we’re going to look at that, because if we don’t look at it, we’re not doing a service to the kids to make sure we’re protecting them.”