Most Anticipated Injury Returns in NBA History
The list of most anticipated injury returns in NBA history includes a collection of Hall of Fame players as well as one who might've been if not for his knees.
As we wait in anticipation for the return of All-Stars like Derrick Rose, Tony Parker and Andrew Bynum, this list includes a collection of stars who similarly missed significant portions of the year due to injury.
This list focuses exclusively on former players who returned from significant injuries while also being named to the All-Star team multiple times in their career.
It only includes those who were sidelined for a range of 30-70 games, before eventually returning to close out the season.
Thus, it does not include Hall of Famers like David Robinson, for example, who missed nearly all of the 1996-97 campaign before returning from injury to begin the following season.
Wilt Chamberlain, Los Angeles Lakers: 1969-70
The Los Angeles Lakers spent 70 games awaiting Wilt Chamberlain's return from injury during the 1969-70 season.
After playing in the first nine games for the Lakers that year, Chamberlain suffered a career-threatening knee injury that would keep him sidelined until the final three games of the regular season.
In 12 total games, Chamberlain averaged 27.3 points and 18.4 rebounds before a postseason run that would extend all the way to the NBA Finals.
He proved healthy enough to average 22.1 points and 22.2 rebounds over 18 playoff games from there, before his Lakers eventually lost in seven games to the New York Knicks.
Ironically enough—in a season where Chamberlain himself was plagued by injuries—it would be Knicks legend Willis Reed who limped onto the court in Game 7, inspiring his team to the upset after tearing a muscle in his thigh and missing Game 6.
Over the next three seasons, Chamberlain returned healthy enough to play in all 82 games each year. During the 1971-72 campaign, he'd make the NBA Finals and beat the Knicks this time while earning the second NBA championship of his career.
Magic Johnson, Los Angeles Lakers: 1980-81
As a 20-year-old rookie in 1980, Magic Johnson helped lead the Los Angeles Lakers to his first of five NBA championships.
The following year, however—during the first month of the regular season—Atlanta Hawks center Tom Burleson fell on Johnson's leg, causing him to tear cartilage in his left knee.
The injury would leave Johnson sidelined for the next 45 games.
In a book titled The Winner Within, written by Pat Riley—an assistant coach with the 1980-81 Lakers—Riley said that the anticipation of Johnson's return from injury that season caused the Lakers to be a "divided team."
That anticipation lasted for three months, from November 18 until Johnson's eventual return on February 27. The Lakers finished the regular season 54-28 in the process, before matching up with the Houston Rockets in the first round of the 1981 playoffs.
Despite averages of 17 points, 13.7 rebounds and seven assists from Johnson, Los Angeles would lose the series to Houston two games to one.
Michael Jordan, Chicago Bulls: 1985-86
Michael Jordan broke into the NBA by averaging 28.2 points, 6.5 rebounds and 5.9 assists in 82 games during his rookie season.
He was voted into the All-Star game as a result and finished as the NBA Rookie of the Year.
Three games into Jordan's second season, however, he broke a bone in his left foot that would cause him to miss the next four months.
Sidelined for 64 games in total—from October 29 to March 15—Jordan returned for the final 15 games of the regular season. In the meantime, though, the buzz he'd created already caused NBA fans to vote Jordan into his second All-Star game as they awaited his return from injury.
While his Chicago Bulls struggled to a 30-52 record as a result of the injury, they did enough to qualify for the postseason. They would be eventually swept by the Boston Celtics in the first round, however, but not before a legendary performance from Jordan.
Fueled by a 63-point effort in Game 2, Jordan finished the three-game series averaging 43.7 points despite being eliminated at the hands of the Celtics.
Shaquille O'Neal, Los Angeles Lakers: 1996-97
On February 12, 1997, Shaquille O'Neal played in his 46th game as a member of the Los Angeles Lakers.
He had just arrived the summer before from the Orlando Magic, equipped with expectations of returning the Lakers to championship glory.
During that February contest with the Minnesota Timberwolves, O'Neal suffered a hyperextended left knee that caused him to miss the next 28 games of the regular season.
He'd return on April 9, and finish his first campaign as a Laker by playing in only 51 games.
With the help of a rookie named Kobe Bryant, the Lakers concluded the 1996-97 season at 56-26 overall.
O'Neal would go on to average 26.9 points and 10.6 rebounds in nine playoff games that year before being eliminated by the Utah Jazz in the Western Conference Semifinals.
It wasn't until three seasons later, with the help of Head Coach Phil Jackson, that O'Neal would eventually win his first of three NBA titles for Los Angeles.
Brandon Roy, Portland Trail Blazers: 2010-11
History may not remember this as vividly as we should, but Brandon Roy was once among the elite players in all the NBA.
In a period that spanned from 2008-10, Roy made three-straight trips to the All-Star game while earning All-NBA honors twice.
Playing through the pain of degenerative arthritis in his knees during 2010-11, Roy managed to gut his way through 23 games to begin the regular season.
The pain would prove too much on December 15, however, and he would be sidelined for just over the next two months of that season.
His much-anticipated return was made on February 23, and Roy would finish the regular season playing in 47 of the Portland Trail Blazers 82 games.
Hobbled by knee injuries even into the postseason, Roy eventually limped onto the floor to help his Trail Blazers beat the Dallas Mavericks in Game 4.
The 24-point-effort he turned in that day against the eventual NBA champions was the stuff of legends, and a game that NBA fans everywhere will cherish forever.
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