More sports better for NBA

THE GAME OF MY LIFE - Bill Velasco - The Philippine Star

Injury and longevity are nebulous factors that have a major impact on an athlete’s career, particularly in the National Basketball Association. Being injury free and playing longer can be the difference between a legendary career and being a journeyman. Most NBA players started their careers early in life, and focused on basketball, excluding all other sports. But recent data shows that it may not be the most efficient path to take.

A study published in the American Journal of Sports Medicine says that having a variety of sports early in life lessens the chance of injury when specializing in one sport later on. The research, conducted by Caitlin Rugg, MD, Nirav Pandya, MD, Brian Feeley, MD, and Adarsh Kadoor, observed 237 athletes, including first-round NBA draft picks from 2008 to 2015. The group first published their findings online in 2017.

Entitled “The Effects of Playing Multiple High School Sports on National Basketball Association Players’ Propensity for Injury and Athletic Performance,” the study focused on the long-term effects of having played more than one sport in high school on the probability of injury and longevity of single-sport athletes, specifically basketball players. It followed athletes looking for risk of injury, burnout and level of achievement. In the study, 36 of the 237 athletes were multi-sport athletes. The timing of specialization appears to affect these incidents. (US NCAA rules prohibit student-athletes in one sport from competing or playing that sport in their off-season. They usually run, bike, climb or play no-contact American football, instead).  The study shows that NBA players who played more than one sport in high school were far less likely to get injured, and thus played more games for more seasons. Almost half of single-sport NBA athletes (43 percent) were likely to get hurt, only a quarter of multi-sport athletes would suffer injuries. They also played about 20 percent more games.

One reason may be the commercialization of youth sports in America. High school basketball in the US is very competitive. Athletes formed the American Athletic Union or AAU. Retired NBA player Lamar Odom played for five different AAU teams in four years of high school. Therefore, even at that age, barely out of puberty, they are already putting substantial miles on their limbs and joints. Overuse injury becomes a probability.

But when one distributes the stress among different muscle groups on a growing body, it strengthens that body overall, and gives the “basketball muscles” a chance to recover. In varying periods of NBA history, certain eras have seen a proliferation of different injuries. In the 1990’s, stress fractures in the shin were common, because of all the lateral movement. The study shows that, as a body develops, it is better to try different sports and cross-train. It balances the growth of the young body, and mitigates physical and mental stress later on in life.


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