That is a fact, as far as we all know, because that is what Howard says, and past experiences dealing with players who have torn labrums tells us so. So any discussion about whether Howard really is hurt or whether he needs to just play through the pain is unfair to the 27-year-old center, who had missed just 15 games in his eight-year career prior to this season.
Avery Bradley dealt with a torn labrum last season, and like Howard, he tried to play through it. Like Howard, Bradley’s effectiveness dwindled as the pain intensified. Eventually — as Howard may soon be forced to do — Bradley came to grips with the reality of his injury and ended his season early to have surgery once the pain traveled to his other shoulder as well.
Nobody knew how much Bradley was hurting, though, because he almost never talked about it. When he did, he downplayed it. And that is the difference between Bradley’s case and what Howard is going through now.
Howard, whose ability to play through pain would be laudable if he were not so eager to remind everyone about it, stepped back into the spotlight Sunday when he told Yahoo! Sports that opposing players are purposefully trying to hurt his ailing shoulder. The Miami Heat “got me early,” he said, causing a shooting pain that limited him the rest of the game.
“They would yank it back,” Howard said, adding: “It’s like a jolt.”
Well, of course opponents are trying to capitalize on the injury. When a 6-foot-11, 240-pound man is trying to dunk on your head or swat your shot into the third row, you tend to look for every advantage you can find. If that includes giving an extra yank to the arm attached to the bad shoulder, then so be it. Some might call that cheap. If so, then you best believe that your favorite player, whoever it is, is cheap, too, because this is exactly what they would do against someone of Howard’s caliber. One does not need to condone the practice to recognize that it is part of the game.
There is one very simple way for Howard to put a stop to this, of course. He can stop playing. He can take a seat and try to wait out the pain, which does not sound like it would be all that effective, or he could accept the reality that surgery is needed and have the procedure done sooner than later. That would bring an end to this season for him — but Los Angeles’ current 4-3 road trip aside, bringing this season to a premature end might not be the worst thing for any member of the Lakers.
Or Howard can keep playing, grit his teeth and, whenever he is asked about it, can say something boring, like how he is dealing with the pain and taking it one day at a time and blah blah blah.
To play or not to play? That is not the full question. Howard has clearly chosen “to play.” The question is in how he approaches his playing. He is gutting through serious pain, as he describes it, and should be lauded for that. Each time he reminds us of his injury, though, even if just a simple statement of fact, it comes off as whining — particularly when his complaint has to do with a perfectly understandable bit of gamesmanship by his opponents.