Kevin Durant

Basketball, Achilles Tears, and Kevin Durant’s Astonishing Recovery by Samuel Kahn, age 13


By Samuel Kahn, age 13

NEW YORK, NY — Over 120 years ago in Springfield Massachusetts, physical education teacher James Naismith created a schoolyard game of throwing soccer balls into a peach basket. That game, basketball, was created as a safer option to football. 

That game now is a world wide Olympic sport worth hundreds of billions of dollars. Players are now paid millions to entertain people. Needless to say, basketball needed something to advance. That something was star players. Players like George Mikan, Jerry West, and Bill Russell helped basketball take off. The 80s and 90s were dominated by Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul Jabar, Larry Bird, and Michael Jordan. The 21st century started with Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan, Shaq, and LeBron James. The 2010s was the era of LeBron James (still), Steph Curry, James Harden, and Kawhi Leonard. However, of all the players since basketball started in that school yard, (arguably) no player has been better at putting the ball in the basket than Kevin Durant. 

When Kevin Durant entered the league in 2007, he was 18. By the time he was 22, he had led the league in scoring twice (he would go on to win two more) and was considered one of the best players in the world. He is now an 11-time all-star,  2-time finals MVP, one-time MVP,  and four-time scoring champion. Clearly, one of the best to ever play.

Kevin Durant and his new teammate James Harden (Photo via 

Although basketball was originally invented to be a safer alternative to football, it is still a dangerous sport. Of all the injuries one could get playing basketball, tearing or rupturing an Achilles may be the worst. “The Achilles tendon is huge for basketball players since it helps with plantarflexion which is required for jumping or running,” physical therapist and team member of The Basketball Doctors Marco Lopez wrote in an email. Because basketball is a game involving so much jumping, shifting, and quick movement, an Achilles tear is a career changing injury. Even after many months of rehab on their Achilles, players most likely will never have their same pre-injury explosiveness because their Achilles will be weaker. 

According to a report on NBA players who suffered Achilles tears between 1996 and 2016, two out of 12 never played another game, nine out of twelve never returned to full form, and only one returned to their pre-injury peak performance. In addition to the ten month off-court recovery period, players usually needed 1.8 seasons to return to peak post-Achilles tear form, (their best form after the injury.) In short, Achilles injuries change the careers of the best basketball players in the world forever. 

Older players, or ones who have played more minutes, usually experience more Achilles issues because “[An Achilles tear is] usually the last straw that broke the camel’s back…It’s more due to a series of microtrauma to the tendon and eventually it gives out,” wrote Dr. Lopez. It so happened that fate met an older player who has played huge amounts of minutes. 

The year is 2019, Game 5 of the NBA Finals, Warriors vs Raptors. Kevin Durant and his Warriors team are in the NBA finals for the fifth year in a row (third for Durant). The Warriors and their big four (Durant, Green, Thompson, and Curry) have played astronomically more minutes than the average NBA team for the past three seasons because of their deep playoff runs. In Game 5, Durant is coming off an injury and the Warrior’s medical staff are reluctant to let him play.  But Durant and his teammates insist and the team needs him. 

Midway through the second quarter, Durant gets a rebound and dribbles the ball past half court. Andrew Bogut sets a screen on Raptor’s defender Pascal Siakam to force the defense to switch who is guarding Durant. As Durant moves to drive on Serge Ibaka (who is now guarding him) he suddenly stops playing, lets the ball slip out of his hand, and hops to sit down near the sideline, the last straw in the camel’s back broke. Fans were worried, but most did not expect the terrible injury that occured. Minutes later he walked off the court with help to a cheering Raptors crowd, happy to see the other team’s star get injured. Later it turned out Durant would have a torn Achilles. 

The 2019 offseason, after the NBA Finals, Kevin Durant was an unrestricted free agent (he could sign with any team). While rehabbing from his achilles injury, Durant decided instead of rejoining the Warriors he would head East to play with Kyrie Irving and the Brooklyn Nets. In New York, fans were ecstatic to have Durant, but worried about his injury and if he would return as good as before. 

However, after missing his first season under contract with the Nets, Durant returned better than ever. Watching his game this season he still has nearly the same movement and explosiveness from the prime days. Although he had to rest a handful of games due to Achilles issues, his Achilles did not seem to be a nagging problem. A remarkable recovery, considering the vast majority of players never fully recover from an Achilles injury, and considering most of the time it takes nearly two seasons to reach prime post injury form. 

More specifically, Durant’s stats were almost the same as in his prime Warriors days. To be exact, here are his stats from the season before and after his Achilles tear:

A comparison of Durant’s stats during his last two playing seasons. All stats via  

Kevin Durant before and after his injury

  • Age is also a factor along with teammates and system;
  • Durant missed over half of the 2020-21 season for non-Achilles related injuries;
  • The 2021 to 21 season was shortened by 10 games;   
  • All stats are in per-game form.

Not only did Durant put on a show during the regular season, during Nets v. Bucks playoff series, Durant put up one of the greatest playoff games of all time. A 49-point triple double. In addition, Durant played almost all the game time minutes in the seven-game series. With Durant putting on a show in the playoffs, there was no doubt that he had returned. Many even considered him as the best player in the world. 

Fans were surprised that Durant came back to his prime form. “Kevin Durant’s triumphant and like-old-times return came to me as a surprise, because of the severity of his injury,” said a teenage Kevin Durant fan from New York City.  

So how did Kevin Durant do it? How did he return from such a devastating injury that ended so many great careers to his prime self? The answer is years of research to help players recover from Achilles injuries. Over 20 years ago, Isiah Thomas retired one month after his Achilles tear, when he was overwhelmed with the practically hopeless recovery process. Now, though debilitating, an Achilles tear is not grounds for an automatic retirement. 

With top-notch doctors monitoring his movement and watching him try to replicate his basketball moves with sensors, Durant was carefully helped through his rehab and retaught how to walk. After suffering the worst injury in basketball, taking an entire season off, Durant returned to full form for the 2020-21 season. 

What’s next for Kevin Durant and the Brooklyn Nets? Only time will tell. After the Nets’ disappointing loss to the Bucks to end the season there are rumors of trades and other changes: your normal offseason cup of tea. Nevertheless, Kevin Durant muscled through the greatest recovery from an Achilles tear ever, and it was a privilege for the basketball world to witness.

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