Most sports fans who possess strong constitutions and have access to YouTube have braved watching video of Indiana Pacers forward Paul George’s devastating leg injury, suffered in the 4th quarter of Team USA exhibition in Las Vegas on Friday night. Those who have seen the replay, or who witnessed the injury first hand, likely felt something of a cringe, as their fortitude was tested. Even his teammates had to cover their eyes once they had seen what had occurred under that basket. While George now faces the long road of recovery, he is hardly the first to suffer such an injury; nor will he be the last.
Injuries transpire as a natural part of sport. Athletes for centuries have trained not only to perfect their skill in competition, but to endure physical demands without their bodies giving out. While the 20th and 21st centuries have marked cutting-edge innovations as far as training methods and equipment for the prevention of sports injuries, the existence of fractures, lacerations and other traumas will always arise where athletes push their bodies to, and beyond, their natural limits.
We take a look at five of the most devastating sports injuries in Los Angeles history.
5. Shaun Livingston, Los Angeles Clippers, 2007
Few players decide to forgo a collegiate athletic opportunity at Duke University, but that’s exactly what Shaun Livingston did when he decided to enter directly into the 2004 NBA Draft. After his second season, with the Los Angeles Clippers, Livingston saw his game stats begin to improve. He appeared to be on the verge of a breakout year in the 2006-07 season, when his momentum came to an abrupt end. On February 26, in a game against the Charlotte Bobcats, Livingston grabbed a loose ball at the top of the key. On a contested layup on the other end of the court, the then-22-year-old landed awkwardly under the basket, with his left left all but parting from the rest of him to lay parallel to the floor. The injury was disastrous, resulting in a torn ACL, a torn PCL, a torn lateral meniscus, a sprained medial MCL, a dislocated kneecap, and a dislocated joint that connects the tibia to the fibula. After being advised from an expert that he may need to have the leg emputated, Livingston went through a taxing rehabilitation. He returned to the NBA in October 2008 with the Miami Heat, and currently plays for the Golden State Warriors.
4. Steve Yeager, Los Angeles Dodgers, 1976
Playing catcher in the Majors is one of the more injury-ridding positions a professional athlete can play. Between the constant pressure on the knees from squatting, the hard, wooden bat swinging within inches of your hand hundreds of times per game, and the smaller-but-equally-hard white ball flying at you at speeds from 90-105 miles per hour, the box behind home plate is, indeed, something of a “no man’s land” in professional sports. That is why the injury to Los Angeles Dodgers catcher Steve Yeager occurred as a gruesome shock to fans and player alike — when it occurred in the on-deck circle. On September 6, 1976, Yeager’s throat was pierced by the shards of teammate Bill Russell’s shattered bat, as he awaited his at-bat. The sharp splinters of the bat perforated his esophagus.. Ultimately, Yeager had nine shards of wood surgically removed from his throat. Yeager would recover, and be named World Series co-MVP for the Dodgers in 1981. He played another 10 years in the Major Leagues following the incident.
3. Rudy Tomjanovich, Houston Rockets at Los Angeles Lakers, 1977
While the overwhelming majority of sports injuries occur as the result of unintentional actions on the field or court, No. 4 on our list is the result of a force of a more willful nature. Even though former Houston Rockets forward Rudy Tomjanovich had been a 2nd overall draft pick, and a four-time NBA All-Star by the late 70’s, he would unfortunately be more remembered for an incident on the court he would rather have forgotten. On December 9, 1977, the Rockets were visiting the Lakers at the Great Western Forum in Inglewood. When Houston’s Kevin Kunnert began to scuffle with LA’s Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Tomjanovich, in an admirable attempt to restore order and break the two players apart, ran to the fight. LA’s Kermit Washington, seeing only an opposing jersey running at him, threw a devastating punch, leaving Tomjanovich on the floor, in near-fatal condition. Tomjanovich, who had suffered a dislocated skull, and the leaking of spinal fluid from his brain, nearly died from the blow. While Washington faced a 60 day suspension without pay, plus a $10,000 fine, Tomjanovich survived, and played another four years in the NBA, prior to a brief stint as coach of the Lakers. The league, following the now-infamous punch, began cracking down on fighting on the court, increasing fines for players involved.
2. Ryan Powdrell, USC Trojans, 2006
After transferring from Saddleback College in nearby Mission Viejo, linebacker Ryan Powdrell began playing on the other side of the ball, taking on the demanding position of fullback, for USC. Following the 2006 season opener against the Arkansas Razorbacks, in which Powdrell took two carries for nine yards, and caught four passes for 72 yards, including a touchdown, the Santa Margarita native sparked whispers of a bright collegiate career. Then, on September 16, at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, in the second game of the season, those hopes were extinguished. Carrying a sweep to the left, Powdrell was taken down at the legs by two Nebraska Cornhuskers. Immediately upon rolling over, Powdrell’s right leg was facing one direction, and his foot was facing another. The injury ended the young fullback’s collegiate career, and he has since been signed and dropped by four NFL practice squads.
1. Napolean McCallum, Los Angeles Raiders, 1994
By 1994, former Navy tailback and 2-time consensus All-American Napolean McCallum had already completed his service requirements, and had taken to playing in the NFL full-time after having his first pro stint interrupted by a naval reassignment to the USS California in the Indian Ocean in 1985. The former NCAA all-purpose yards record holder, who had played in the Army-Navy game at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena in 1983, saw most playing time as a Raider in Special Teams and as a running back in short-yard situations. In the 1994 season opener against the San Francisco 49ers on September 5, on Monday Night Football, McCallum was carrying the ball through the line, when he met Niners linebacker Ken Norton Jr. As McCallum was taken to the ground by Norton, he began twisting to the left. Unfortunately, his left leg did not twist with him. His left cleat stuck to the ground, and by the time he was on the ground, his leg had been entirely hyper-extended. The injury ruptured an artery in his leg, tore three ligaments, tore his calf and hamstring from their bones, and ended the decorated tailback’s career.