Robert Griffin III gets it. The veteran Baltimore Ravens quarterback understands why Kevin Durant was willing to risk returning for the Golden State Warriors in Game 5 of the NBA Finals against the Toronto Raptors despite still recovering from a calf injury. On Wednesday, Durant confirmed he ruptured his Achilles tendon in the Warriors’ victory, and he also underwent surgery. The superstar could miss the entire 2019-20 season. Griffin can relate.
Late in his first NFL season with the Washington Redskins, Griffin, who had reconstructive surgery on his right knee in college, reinjured his knee against Baltimore. Based on Griffin’s medical history, he shouldn’t have returned to the game after colliding with Ravens defensive lineman Haloti Ngata. But back in he went and, clearly hobbled, played four more downs before being removed.
Wearing a bulky leg brace to supposedly protect his knee, Griffin started in Washington’s NFC wild-card playoff loss to the Seattle Seahawks, further damaged his knee and had surgery. The controversial situation played a major role in derailing his career. For most professional athletes, however, the lure of returning to competition, especially during the playoffs, is too powerful to ignore.
In a lengthy conversation with The Undefeated, Griffin explained that Durant did what he believed he had to do. The consequences be damned.
I watched it as it was happening, and a lot of people have compared it to my situation. A lot of people have asked whether he should have played. They’ve asked whether he should have waited to play. Ya know, Kawhi [Leonard, Toronto Raptors superstar forward] had a situation last year [while he was with the San Antonio Spurs] where he decided not to play. That had less to do with his injury and more to do with some disagreements he had with the Spurs, at least from what I understand. But everyone was wondering when KD was going to come back. He comes back in Game 5, and as soon as he goes down, the question flips. Then everybody starts asking why. Why was he even playing? So for me, yeah, it definitely brings back memories.
What you have to understand, and I believe this, is that any player, if you present them with the opportunity to play, they’re going to say they want to play. They’re going to say that they want to be out there with their brothers. And it’s not a selfish thing. You bleed with these guys. You work hard with them. You sweat. You cry with them. You want to give them your best. I know that in my situation, I just wanted to give everything I had in me to my teammates. We’re not built to say that we’re not going to play. And when you’re in the moment, especially in a moment like that, you’re thinking about the guys. You want to do everything you possibly can to support them. If you don’t want us to play, or if you don’t want KD to play, then you don’t give him the option.
To this point in my career, I’ve never played in a Super Bowl. A Super Bowl is the equivalent of the NBA Finals, of course. So if you’re Kevin Durant and your team needs you, Game 5, NBA Finals, and they [clear] you to play, you have to understand he’s going to play. I don’t know of any player in that situation, when your team is out there fighting to win a championship, that isn’t going to play. I don’t know any player that would say no to that. I remember when [Los Angeles Chargers quarterback] Philip Rivers played with a torn ACL [and meniscus] in a playoff game because, well, it was the playoffs. And who knows when you’re going to get back or how often you’re going to be there? You just don’t know when that moment is going to come back around for you.
I believe it is a catch-22. But most players … we don’t worry about that. There’s this thing called fight-or-flight [response]. Most of us are built to fight. So whenever we get a situation where we’re a little injured or a little banged up, our first reaction isn’t to get out of there and rest. Our first reaction is to figure out how we can keep going. That’s what makes a guy like Kevin Durant great. He should be commended for going out there and giving up his body for his team, even though it didn’t turn out the way he or anyone really wanted it to turn out.
Say Durant goes out, plays all four quarters, doesn’t get hurt and scores 45 points. Then what does everyone say? Well, then they’re saying that maybe he should have been playing earlier. They’d be saying he didn’t look rusty. They’d be saying he looked well rested. They’d be saying he looked great. And that’s the catch-22. But most of us [elite athletes] just don’t think of it that way. We just think of the fact that it’s an important situation. For Durant, it’s the NBA Finals. You ask yourself if you can play. And if given the option, it’s a simple decision.
Everyone saw me limping around [during Washington’s 2012 postseason game]. I know that. But I wasn’t looking at it that way. I was looking at it like I’m out here for my brothers. I’m out here for my team. And that was the only place I wanted to be.