It’s been an unfortunate week in sports news. Two promising basketball centers received devastating, career-altering results from their NBA physicals that have led to a drop in the draft boards – if not elimination entirely.
Joel Embiid has a stress fracture, the same one that made life so miserable for “Z”, and Baylor’s Isaiah Austin was diagnosed with Marfan syndrome and an enlarged aorta.
Yesterday, I had the chance to speak with WAKR morning show host Ray Horner about these players’ medical conditions. It is stories like these that reinforce why sports physicals are so vital for athletes.
Below is an audio file and transcript of our discussion. Originally aired on 1590 WAKR-AM on June 25, 2014.
DR. CONGENI: Yeah, Ray. Good morning. Really there are a couple of (basketball) centers that have had some medical news recently that we wanted to cover.
With Joel Embiid, yeah, really, really talented guy. Obviously in Cleveland, we have a high pick, [which] means our team wasn’t very good.
Also, the reason it’s relevant is all of the high school kids and even our grade school kids are getting their physicals now and occasionally at this time of year, you’ll pick up information like this.
So Embiid, apparently, continued to have some foot pain and in getting worked up further, he had a stress fracture to a bone. It turned out to be a bad bone, the bone in the middle of the foot known as the navicular bone in the mid-foot. It particularly occurs in tall, large basketball players.
This is the same bone that made life so miserable for Zydrunas IIgauskas, for “Z.” It ended the career of Yao Ming. So, it’s a big concern, and it’s dropped him down the draft boards.
And, I think he’s out as far as the Cavs with the No. 1 pick. I am glad as a Cavs fan, a Cleveland fan, that [we] found out before the fact, instead of finding out next week after [we] drafted a guy like him. So, that’s good news.
He went for his physical and had this workup done. The bone has really bad blood flow, so it needs to be fixed. The key is if you pick it up early and you fix it early, people do pretty well. If you fix it later, it can be a big problem.
But, I definitely agree if there’s a guy with a foot injury like this, you can’t really draft him high, and that’s the big issue.
The other center then about a day or 2 later…they found out medically from his physical in the NBA is a center by the name of Isaiah Austin. His name came up earlier in sports circles because he’s a guy that played at Baylor (University) and was blind in one eye. He had a great career and came out early. He’s 20 years old, 7 (foot)-1 also.
But, he has a condition that we look for when we do physicals called Marfan syndrome. It occurs in people that are very tall, [with] very long fingers, very long wingspan. It’s a genetic condition that’s rare, but at the time of physicals, you’re looking for that needle in a haystack that could put a kid at risk.
In this young man, when he had his NBA physical last week, they found out that he had Marfan syndrome. They found out that in his heart – [a typical condition with Marfan syndrome] – the aorta, the main artery that comes off of the heart, has an enlargement in it and a weakening of it. If you play sports at a very high level, you can rupture the aorta and it can lead to sudden death.
It’s one of those rare conditions where we find out in young people that die suddenly. This young man, after opting out of Baylor, was told that he can’t be drafted and he can’t play in the NBA.
So, these are the kinds of things that are rare, but it’s the reason why we do physical exams for athletes.
HORNER: Well, the one thing that I guess is a positive for Embiid with the bone [is] I remember a young man who had that same break. Turning back the clock, midway through his second year, came back and had a pretty good career and that was Michael Jordan, if I was reading that right last night. He broke that same bone.
DR. CONGENI: Ah, gosh. Jordan did have a stress fracture, but I thought it was in a bone, the fibula bone, that wasn’t as big of a deal.
But, it is one that afflicts a lot of basketball players. It’s the location of where it’s at; it’s the blood flow of where it’s at. And, when they were saying a week ago that Embiid had an injury, I was hoping for a simpler one and a simpler bone. But, when it ends up being here, it’s gonna be risky.
He’ll get taken, right? I know you have your draft experts [putting him] in the top 10, maybe still in the top 5, but there will definitely be some risk and red flags attached to him, and that’s the kinda thing, picking No. 1, that the Cavs do not need.
HORNER: I agree. Joe, great insight as always. Thanks for the time. We appreciate it.
DR. CONGENI: Alright, Ray. Have a great week.
HORNER: You too. Dr. Joe Congeni, Sports Medicine Center at Akron Children’s Hospital.