The Toe: Diagnosis, PleasePosted by jstevrtc on January 11th, 2011
One month and one week ago, Duke beat Butler, 82-70. Scanning Duke’s schedule, it looks like just another Blue Devil win, part of their perfect campaign up to this point. Just about every follower of college basketball knows, however, that that was the day we started the clock on Toe Watch 2010-11. It was the game in which Kyrie Irving sustained that bizarre injury to his right big toe on what looked like a routine drive to the basket that he quickly decided against making when pain consumed his foot.
Just as strange as the actual injury, though, has been the mystery surrounding it. We’re not talking about the difference between how benign it looked at the time and how devastating it apparently is. We’re talking about…well, that’s the problem. None of us knows what we’re talking about. It happened 38 days ago, and we still haven’t been told the diagnosis.
The Fayetteville Observer’s Dan Wiederer has been at the forefront of Toe Watch 2010-11, and has chronicled well the mystery that for some reason engulfs Irving’s impaired digit. For example, on January 6th, Wiederer posted an article on his blog in which he reveals the answer he was given by assistant coach Chris Collins when he asked Collins what, in fact, the injury was. He quoted the coach thusly:
“It’s a combination of things,” Collins said. “There’s a ligament and some bone in there that have been damaged. And from what we’ve seen, it’s a very unique injury. It’s a form of turf toe but it’s a little more severe than that. It’s been hard to explain in layman’s terms. But because it’s in the ball of his foot, that’s a really dicey area. That’s where you do all your cutting and your jumping. And that’s where you do all of your pushing off from. That’s what’s made this all the more delicate. I don’t know that the injury has an exact label. If it has a name, I don’t know what it is. But it’s something that we need to make sure gets healed correctly before Kyrie even thinks about playing. Because otherwise he could have more problems down the road.”
There is some information that we can use there. Collins mentions that it’s “a form of turf toe.” A turf toe is just another name for a hyperextension of a big toe, as if it were bent back too far, or as if someone landed on your heel while you had your knee and toes on the ground (in the “take a knee” position). When that happens, you can damage ligaments and tendons in there, the ones that help you move your toes in all directions. Not only does it hurt like crazy, but it’s a difficult place to place an effective cast or to tape up to prevent movement. Sometimes (and we have no knowledge of how bad it is in Irving’s case) the damaged joint between the affected bones in the toe never fully heals. We appreciate Collins’ and the Duke staff’s desire to bring Irving along slowly from this, but what does he mean by “damaged?” Torn? Bruised? Avulsed? None of the above? And if the injury is that delicate and rare, one would have to assume that it has a name. We doubt that if we opened up Kyrie’s chart at his physician’s office, we’d see a diagnosis of “Unknown Right Big Toe Injury,” or “Right Great Toe Pain (Not Otherwise Specified).” The Department of Orthopaedics at Duke University is not a charm school. It’s one of the best ortho centers in the country, if not the world. We’re pretty sure that somebody there has decided on a diagnosis for Irving’s injury, and that they’ve told the coaches about it.
Wiederer posted an article at his blog yesterday after participating in the Monday morning ACC coaches’ teleconference, where Mike Krzyzewski was asked about a specific diagnosis for Irving’s injury. We quote from Wiederer’s article, which contains Coach K’s response to the question:
But Krzyzewski stopped short of giving a more specific diagnosis of Irving’s injury, seemingly hesitant to provide additional details on what all is wrong with Irving’s toe.
“I’d rather not go into it. I’m not a medical person,” Krzyzewski said. “It’s a very intricate type of situation because it’s an injury that could be repaired surgically or non-surgically. And the non-surgical method is what (the doctors) want to do and we agree with them. It’s too complicated to talk about. And actually it’s not anyone’s right to know that. It’s his toe. So what we’ve been very straightforward about is what his status is.”
So what is Irving’s status?
Out. Indefinitely. Still.
“I’d rather not go into it” is a defensive, or at least evasive, response. Also, you don’t have to be a medical person to tell people how one of your players has injured himself. Matt Painter, for example, isn’t a “medical person” but he knew how to tell us that Robbie Hummel tore his ACL, both times. There are many things that can be treated surgically or non-surgically, so that doesn’t answer the question, either. As for it being too complicated to talk about, well, how does Krzyzewski know what we can comprehend and what we can’t? And we’re not asking for an explanation. Just a diagnosis.
It’s certainly true that Duke and Kyrie Irving are not obligated to tell anyone anything. It’s a medical matter and Irving can keep it to himself if he wishes. Considering how irregular that would be, though, we don’t think anyone associated with the program should get angry if the media (or, say, a college hoops blog) chose to challenge them on that. We can’t remember a time when a player got injured and the coach, weeks after the injury, told everybody, “I’d rather not go into it.” What we do know is that if certain coaches in the game gave a response similar to what Coach K offered above (we’ll let you fill in the names, there), the fans and the press would devour them and publicly accuse them of all sorts of deceit. And let’s be frank, here. In the college basketball world, it’s hard to avoid Duke basketball. Duke is everywhere. Their coach has his own show on satellite radio. The media coverage of the coach and his program is pervasive, to say the least. Yet, when someone asks him about an injury to his star freshman, a kid who was not just a Freshman of the Year candidate but an outright Player of the Year contender, he suddenly becomes reticent to talk?
We have no problem with how Irving’s injury, whatever it is, has been managed. Nobody here has the knowledge base and therefore the right to question any decisions made by Irving’s medical team. We’re certain that what they say to do is exactly what should be done. And hey, we want Kyrie to be well. We want to see him play, pain-free, and without fear of pain. We feel cheated that we got such a small taste of his ability before this freak accident. No doubt that Duke fans feel that way. That’s a fan base that deserves a team at full strength, even if their team is pretty darn good without their ailing freshman.
Regardless of their opinion about Duke basketball, no college basketball fan can deny that the program occupies a truly special niche in American sport. Duke fans camp out in tents in all kinds of weather for tickets. They travel. The school’s alumni show up at road games in places where you wouldn’t expect to find Duke fans. Love them or hate them, and ESPN’s ill-conceived ”Cameron Crazie Cam” from several years ago notwithstanding, the students at the home games, through their volume, creativity, and stamina in support of their squad and their torment of opposing players and coaches, have made Cameron Indoor Stadium a place that endows their team with one of the biggest home-court/field/ground advantages on the entire planet. Another thing, therefore, that this fan base deserves is the truth. Whether or not they see their team at full strength again this year is up to fate. Whether or not they find out exactly why their most exciting player isn’t playing is up to the coach whose ascent up and eventual summit atop the all-time wins list might have gone a little slower if it weren’t for those very fans, a group of people to whom he apparently doesn’t feel he needs to answer on this one.
We don’t engage in conspiracy theories around here. We’re not saying there’s a cover-up in place. All we know is what you know: that Kyrie Irving was injured well over a month ago; that his doctors have decided that he should refrain from playing basketball; that Irving may miss the entire season; and that Coach K, when asked about the actual diagnosis, has, for whatever reason, decided that he’d rather not get into it, and it’s nobody else’s right to know. When presented with a lack of information, it’s human nature to either ask questions, or, as often happens, to fill in that vacuum with our own version of the truth based on incomplete or questionable facts, and assume things are worse than they really are. We prefer to ask questions rather than speculate. What’s the diagnosis, then? And why all the secrecy?