WARNING: THE VIDEO IN THIS POST, USED TO SUPPLEMENT THE TEXT DESCRIPTION, SHOWS THE INJURY AND IS TO BE VIEWED WITH CAUTION.
An entire country of television viewers were subjected to a truly gruesome injury this past weekend during Louisville's win over Duke, when sophomore guard Kevin Ware simply tried to close out on a three-point shot and wound up breaking his leg so severely that it had to be covered up with a towel to prevent his teammates from vomiting any more than they already had.
What exactly happened? Ware came charging out to defend a three-point attempt by Duke's Tyler Thornton, a pretty common play in a basketball game, and since he was late closing out he used the "Superman Dive" technique to try to get there. This put his weight well forward of his legs, giving him little choice but to come down on his right leg, the only one he had time to get under him.
Unfortunately that leg just gave way, so severely that both his tibia and fibula fractured and the tibia became exposed to the open air in what is known as an open, or compound fracture. Two points I will make here: one, it is an amazing blessing that he got a clean break and that the bones (given the location of the break) missed any significant vascular structures so as to avoid him bleeding courtside. Also, that towel over his leg was to protect everyone's eyes, but also to protect the exposed skin and bone that, quite honestly, could have resulted in infection and amputation in short order.
You think to yourself "well, that's what he gets for flying out there so haphazardly that he lost body control and had to land awkwardly." To that, I would say that you are right, but only partly. As Dr. Robert Glatter, an emergency physician at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York, put it:
"They're more commonly seen in car accidents where the shin smashes against the lower part of the dashboard or when someone jumps from a height like in parachuting,"
Indeed, in this case the amount of force imparted on Ware's leg was marginal compared to those two scenarios just described. While the way he closed out on the shooter is indeed a bad idea, it's more because that can cause a lot of unnecessary strain on the knee by sending multiple times your body weight down through one knee. The amount of force he experienced is more equivalent to jumping off a moving swing set than being in a car accident.
As that same article points out, the odds are decent that Ware had some history (either recent or not so recent) of stress fracture, and possibly even some dietary Vitamin D deficiency, that would predispose his bones to be weaker than average and thus more susceptible to such a traumatic injury, even from a relatively un-traumatic amount of force.
I don't know if it's quite as dramatic as some sort of systemic Vitamin D deficiency issue for African-American athletes, but it is still something worth paying attention to if Ware wants to fully recover and get back to playing basketball, which is very likely.
What does this mean for the game? It's hard to say. On the one hand, Ware's role had been gradually growing with the team, as evidenced by his play against Oregon. On the other hand, Louisville was able to put away Duke handily without him. On yet another hand, there's a chance that the emotion and adrenaline of the moment helped that Louisville surge and they'll not be quite as successful or cohesive now that they are down from that high.