And on the seventh day, God created Man, and He saw that it was very good.
Well, the knees could be a problem, He thought. But hey, no one’s perfect…except me! And God laughed and laughed at His own joke, as He had done many times before, and so did the angels, because, well, they had to.
God was tired from creating everything, and while he considered scrapping his latest version of mankind to fix the knee issue, He thought, screw it, life is meaningless without pain and whatever.
So it was that knees became the bane of all mankind, especially athletes, and by proxy, sports fans.
Sports and suffering are intertwined — the love of the former all but guarantees experiencing the latter. But not all suffering is the same: The suffering of Charlotte Bobcats fans, lamenting the constant cellar-dwelling status of their team, is different than the agony of Spurs fans after game six and seven of last year’s finals. Yet there’s still a commonality in those pains: they are not permanent. The Bobcats were horrible this year, but they get to try and not be so this year. The Spurs lost in the Finals, but they’ll contend once more this season.
The pain of defeat is lessened somewhat by the knowledge that there will always be a next time — injuries elicit no such comfort. Injuries produce a different sort of suffering, that which carries the added pains of uncertainty.
Since their inception, the Oklahoma City Thunder had been immune to the anguish conjured by injuries. That all changed in last year’s playoffs, when Russell Westbrook, ironically the Thunder’s sturdiest player, tore his meniscus during a collision with the Rockets’ Patrick Beverley.
Prior to the unfortunate collision, if an X-Ray of Russell Westbrook had produced pictures of an adamantium-laced skeleton, it would have made total sense. Nigh-indestructible, Westbrook never missed a game and never stayed down — injuries were as foreign a concept to Westbrook as a bad shot is to Nick Young.
Westbrook missed the remainder of the playoffs, and his absence, once unfathomable, doomed the Thunder, despite Kevin Durant’s torrid scoring. Even so, it was thought the absence would only last through the playoffs. A summer of rest and rehabilitation, and Russell Westbrook would return to the court true to form.
(Aw, optimism — how cute! Cackled God from high above)
Yesterday, however, came the news that Westbrook would miss the first four to six weeks of the regular season after undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery. And while a loose stitch, not a re-aggravation of the injury, is what caused the swelling in Westbrook’s knee and thereby necessitated his surgery, that sliver of silver lining does little to combat the uncertainty now cemented into the minds of Thunder fans.
Until now, the suffering of Thunder fans comprised mostly of growing pains: witnessing a young, talented, but terrible team; losing in the playoffs, and later the finals; trading one of the team’s best players (a pain caused as much by the CBA than anything else). These were all finite sources of pain, they had their beginnings and endings, and little else after (the Harden trade possibly excepted).
Westbrook’s setback changes everything. Uncertainty never fully goes away; it lurks in the retreats of the mind. Now, when Westbrook misses a point-blank lay up, a voice from the shadows will whisper, I wonder if His knee caused him to miss that. Maybe he can’t explode like he used to. Westbrook’s injury sowed the seeds of uncertainty, while this latest setback showers it with water and sunlight.
Fans of the Knicks, Cavaliers, Kings, and Wizards, to name just a small few, know too well the suffering — be it from a star leaving, or loss, or injury — that comes with being a fan. These are old fans, well-versed in pain. Thunder fans, by contrast, are still children (in terms of their fandom, not the way they act), and one of the most painful lessons a child learns is that of mortality. Humans are all subject to harm, and not even the most spectacular of our species can overcome our inherent design flaws. It’s a lesson often forgotten in sports, as Adonis-like figures sprint and soar and hurl and catch with seemingly no effort — and one, as Thunder fans are just now learning, easily taught.
Image by Express Monorail via Flickr