Before blossoming into the greatest shooter the sport has ever known, Steph Curry was defined by his fragile ankles.
Over the course of his first 3 NBA seasons, Curry missed 66 games, most of that coming after his initial operation, as he sprained his ankle five times while playing in 26 games the following year.
If his 2012 surgery failed, he was faced with the bleak prospect of inserting tendons from a cadaver into his ankle in the hopes that they would function better than the ones nature provided for him.
Luckily for Curry, the NBA, and anyone who ever wished that Steve Nash and Pete Maravich would have an And1 basketball baby, his last surgery is looking like it could be his last ankle surgery.
Steph’s problems were actually a pretty easy fix, as they were due to a mess of scar tissue, bone spurs, chips, and cartilage filling his joints “like crab meat.”
Dr. Richard Ferkel essentially vacuumed it all out, and the next face of the NBA was reborn.
“I feel like I’ve been doing nothing but rehabbing for two years. I feel like I’m never going to be able to play again. This ankle thing is not gonna be my life.”
Curry took advantage of as many resources as he could to fuel his 2nd chance in the NBA. Before every game now, Curry straps on his Zamst ankle braces (designed for post-sprain activity) and a pair of Under Armour sneakers created specifically for his feet.
Every team is looking for an edge somewhere in keeping players healthy and consistent. It is an accepted fact that this is the new market inefficiency in sports. But few organizations pursue this avenue with the vigor and resources of the Warriors.
They hired Australian sports science guru Lachland Penfold this offseason, and according to owner Joe Lacob, the goal is to “have like, a video game fatigue meter. A guy like Lachland will be able to go up to Bob and Steve [Kerr] and say, ‘Guys, he’s at a 77, and our threshold is 75 for Safe to Play.'”
The NBA’s new SportVU cameras that track and measure almost any movement on the court have combined with the GPS trackers the team wears in practice to give the Warriors unprecedented insight into their players’ health and its relation to their game.
The Warriors place a premium on their players’ mental acuity as well. Steve Kerr has made it a team goal to reduce personal stress, and the Warriors run complex drills to test their nervous system, as Curry described in an interview with Tech Insider:
“We overload our sensory system, nervous system, in our training with different lights. There are little beams that we have on the wall, and I’ll be doing dribble moves and reading the lights that are associated with different moves. Different colors mean to do a different move, and you have to make that decision in a split second and still have control of the ball.”
What do Steve Kerr, Chip Kelly, the Vancouver Canucks, and Jason Bourne all agree on? As the line from Robert Ludlum’s famous 1990 book goes: “Rest is a weapon.”
Before Kelly even arrived in Philadelphia three years ago, the Vancouver Canucks signed a deal in 2009 with Fatigue Science.
No professional squad has a more brutal travel schedule than the northwesternmost team in North America; the Canucks traveled one third of the distance to the moon en route to their 2011 Stanley Cup Finals loss, so it’s only natural that they would be interested in the effects of sleep, or the lack thereof, on the body.
A 2012 Harvard Study placed Fatigue Science’s armbands on orthopedic surgical residents and found that they averaged 5.3 hours of sleep per week, and because of this, the risk of medical error increased by 22%. Significant fatigue basically has the same effect on the body as being drunk.
Kelly has said that he believes that “an elite athlete needs between 10-12 hours [of sleep] a night.”
He was a college football pioneer in so many ways at Oregon, and he was practically the only college coach who was seriously investing in sport science.
As Chris Brown wrote for Grantland in 2014 about the basis of Kelly’s research (which was conducted on Australian-rules football):
“Many of those studies used heart rate, GPS, accelerometers, and gyroscope monitors worn by players in practice to determine how to train for peak game-day performance and how to prevent injuries. These studies also tracked the movements that players made in games so teams could mold practices and training to what players did on an individualized and position-by-position basis.”
The Eagles were 18th in Football Outsiders’ adjusted games lost to injury metric the year before Kelly arrived.
They invested a ton of money in his programs, placed trackers on their players’ wrists in practice, and finished 1st and 2nd in his subsequent seasons. Kelly has since been fired from the Eagles and is now the head coach of the San Francisco 49ers.
— Rich Hill (@PP_Rich_Hill) January 27, 2016
Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan used to show up for work before sunrise. But things have changed for him.
“I thought that showed dedication and work ethic. I don’t do that anymore, because I realized it is more important to be rested and ready than it is to beat everybody to work.”
Pete Carroll has long embraced the importance of sleep, and the Seahawks now schedule their travel and training schedules to maximize their players’ sleep efficiency.
Richard Sherman has become one of Carroll’s acolytes on this issue, emphasizing how the head coach’s focus on good sleep was central to their Championship season of 2014 in an open letter for Sports Illustrated.
The pace of innovation in sports is accelerating. The Moneyball Era opened the floodgates for a reevaluation of everything.
Once available only to elite athletes, this technology that monitors players’ health and performance and helps explain their inextricably linked relationship is becoming more widespread and affordable.
If these advances could help alter the course of Steph Curry’s career, and thus, the history of the NBA, imagine the possibilities they could create in neighborhoods across the country.
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