Every year brings even more gruesome injuries to athletes than the last. And with bigger, stronger and faster players it sometimes feels as if it is a consequence of the sports culture. But when Louisvilles Kevin Ware broke his leg, the YouTube era reached a crossroads.
There have been graphic injuries prior to Wares and sadly his will not be the last, but his is unique both due to its time and place. Ware went to close out on Dukes Tyler Thorntons three-point attempt with 6:33 minutes left in the first half of his teams Elite Eight matchup. His focus appeared to be more on the ball in flight instead of where he would land and when he did his leg buckled and broke in two spots.
The injury immediately brought to mind Joe Theismann breaking his leg on a Lawrence Taylor sack in 1985. A sock protected Theismanns leg from view.
Ware did not have that same luxury. His injury was immediately visible to everyone present and watching on television. CBS, who was airing the game, had an immediate decision to make: to replay or not to replay. Ultimately they chose to show the play twice on TV but refrained from showing it again inside Lucas Oil Stadium.
But in a YouTube world, the public has free access to choose whether to see the injury. And in the first 24 hours after the play, the video was viewed millions of times.
Ware himself did not initially realize that his leg was broken. It took until Louisville head coach Rick Pitino went to examine him before it elicited a reaction. “[He] went to help me up, he glanced at my leg and his eyes got huge,” Ware said in an interview with ABC news. “I looked down at my leg and it was just automatic shock.”
Wares teammates reacted in the only ways they could. Some rushed to trash cans just off the court and threw up.
Others such as guard Russ Smith embraced one another and began to cry. I heard it. I saw it. Then, I saw what happened and I just like fell,” Smith said in an interview with the New York Daily News.
Trainers and Pitino rushed to Kevins side, putting a towel over the injury to block it from view. And then Ware surprised everyone.
The bone broke in two spots, Pitino said in an interview with the New York Daily News. Its sticking six inches out of the leg and hes yelling, Ill be fine. Win the game. Win the game. Ive never seen anything like that before in my life.
And win they did, following a 42-42 tie score with just under 16 minutes to play, the Cardinals went on a 17-2 run and put the game away. Smith scored 23 points on the day and was named the Most Outstanding Player in the Midwest Region despite a suffering from a severe virus.
The way Louisville stayed composed and executed down the stretch in order to reach the Final Four was admirable, but this injury transcended sports and entered the general consciousness.
CBS made a premeditated decision to not reshow the play on the halftime show or postgame show. The same can be said for ESPN, who did not show the injury itself but instead showed a reaction shot of his teammates.
But it was not only sports programs that latched onto the story. It got national attention from the mainstream media, too. On Thursday, Good Morning Americas Josh Elliot interviewed Ware, choosing not to show the injury, but calling it a horrifying moment, one so graphic that we purposely blurred it.
And later on that night, Ware appeared on the Late Show with David Letterman to read the Top 10. Called top 10 things going through Kevin Ware’s mind when he broke his leg the list included 10. What was that loud cracking sound? 8. Hey look my tibia! And 2. Heat, then ice or ice, then heat? Ware showed immense maturity taking on the gallows humor head-on.
Louisville played inspired basketball in their Final Four matchup against Wichita State, rallying from a 12-point deficit with 13:35 left in the game to gain a berth in the NCAA Championship game against Michigan. And Ware was there, on the sidelines, cheering on his team after having surgery earlier in the week to reset the bone and insert a rod in his right tibia.
And there he was again, next to the Louisville bench, as the Cardinals captured the NCAA Championship on Monday night. We will never know the effect that Ware may have had if he had not sustained his injury, but his absence provided the opportunity for role player Luke Hancock.
In many ways Hancock may have been the difference between National Champion and Runner-up. Down 12 in the closing moments of the first half, Hancock scored 14 unanswered points, hitting four three-pointers as well as a couple of free throws, to get Louisville back into the game.
This built upon Hancocks impressive performance in his teams Final Four matchup with Wichita State where he scored 20 points. For his efforts, he was named Most Outstanding Player of the Final Four.
Despite the horrific nature of his injury, Kevin Ware was able to motivate his teammates to reach the peak of their sport. His presence acted as a physical reminder of pain and hardship inherent in reaching the pinnacle of college basketball.
Even in the heat of the moment, having just won a National Championship, Ware deflected the focus away from himself and in interview with a Kansas City news station said, It’s not about me, I’ve never been that type of guy. These are my brothers. They got the job done.”
Whether Ware will be able to return to play Division I basketball remains an unknown, but seeing the way that he has handled himself in the wake of the injury, I have no doubt that he will make every effort to do so.