When Nicolas Batum rolled his ankle while playing with the French National Team a few weeks ago and was unable to play the following game, I experienced a full-body cringe. Those cringes usually pop up when you’re watching something really uncomfortable or embarrassing or, in this case, after being proven right about something you want desperately to be wrong about.
I’ve always thought that extracurricular activities were double-edge swords: on the one hand you’re on the swim team, but on the other you have less time for homework. You’re learning chess, but you have no friends. You’re binge drinking…. well, you get the idea.
The same is true for extracurricular basketball. Sure, you’re getting more reps in live-game environments, working against many different opponents of different styles, representing your country on the world stage. But selfishly, as a Blazers fan, the drawback has always loomed large: the threat of injury.
And with no player has it seemed to be a touchier issue than with Batum, having dealt with shoulder injuries so often, and because he takes great pride in representing his native France in international competition. That means that, come summer, if there’s basketball to be played in France, Batum will probably be there.
For most people, this would be great (more reps, more practice, stoking some patriotism for your country, etc.) For Batum, it’s not. Considering the range and scope of his shoulder injuries (in early 2009, surgery in late 2009, a flare-up during the playoffs in 2010, and again this year when he sat out the last 8 games), and given how his international play is sometimes troublingly adjacent to said injuries (he played for France after the Blazers diagnosed a shoulder “contusion,” which later became a “torn labrum” that required surgery, and he’s playing now following his season-ending shoulder troubles), there may be cause for concern.
My take on it is this: he’s a grown man. He can do what he wants with his life.
But (and it’s a “but” bigger than even Sir Mix-a-Lot would prefer) it’s also true that he chose to ink a tens-of-millions-of-dollars commitment to the Portland Trail Blazers. While there’s nothing in his contract that says he has to rest during the summer so he’s in prime shape for NBA competition, I can’t help but feel that his extracurricular hooping may do more harm than good, not only for the Blazers but for his future health.
One thing I do know: as much as I cringed when he hurt his ankle last month, I really, really hope I get to look back on this, after Batum cashes in multiple injury-free seasons, and cringe twice as hard. Only this time, it will be the “did I really say that?” cringe. Those ones can get you pretty good.