After 2nd ACL Tear, How Does Jabari Parker Come Back?

Jabari Parker

Jabari Parker is 21 years old.

Wednesday night was supposed to be a special night for the Milwaukee Bucks. Unfortunately, that’s all we’re going to say about it. This isn’t going to be about their playoff chances. Or even about their future, immediate or otherwise.

No, we’re just here to talk about Jabari Parker. We’re here to talk about the fact that he’s now torn the same ACL twice within a span of 26 months. So now what? Well first, let’s go back a few years.

On June 26, 2014, a 19-year-old Parker was selected second overall—in between Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid—by Milwaukee in the NBA Draft. This, of course, coming after one year with Duke University in which Parker averaged 19.1 points and 8.7 rebounds per contest. This, of course, signaling the beginning of a return to relevancy for the Bucks.

And then, with 10:52 remaining in the third quarter of his 25th career NBA game, it happened. On a drive to the basket against the Phoenix Suns, Parker’s left knee buckled:

The 2015-16 season came and went, and with it brought an encouraging return. It wasn’t that Parker suddenly transformed into the player many were expecting when the Bucks drafted him, it was that he was healthy. And, it was that he remained as such. Parker appeared in 76 games last season—starting 72 of them—and averaged just over 14 points and five rebounds per along the way.

But over the course of that season, over the course of his return, things changed significantly. Giannis Antetokounmpo began blossoming into a star. Khris Middleton emerged as a three-and-D threat. For the first time in ages, the Bucks had a core. In Giannis, Parker and Middleton, there was finally a reason for excitement.

Then came Wednesday night, and with it, a cruel form of déjà vu. With 6:37 remaining in the third quarter against the Miami Heat, Parker’s left knee—under very little contact as he made his way towards the basket—buckled:

The movement was identical; his reaction was just about a frame-for-frame recreation; and ultimately, the end result was exactly the same. But can we see a way back for Parker? Well, it’s tricky once you realize how rare this is.

There are only two recent examples in the NBA of a player tearing their ACL twice during their career: Michael Redd and Josh Howard. As coincidence would have it, Redd was also a Buck. Additionally, each tear took place in his left knee. One difference, for what little it’s worth, was that each tear included the MCL as well. Another difference came in age—Redd was 30 years old at the time of his second tear. Still, he would play in just 61 games after that.

Then there’s Howard. In March of 2010, as a member of the Washington Wizards, he tore the ACL in his right knee. Almost three years later, the left ACL went. At the time of the second tear Howard was 32 years old. He would never play in the NBA again. Later on he’d be waived by the Austin Toros—San Antonio’s D-League affiliate—after suffering a season-ending injury in February of 2014. That’s it. That’s all we have to go on.

We could go all the way back to the days of Danny Manning—who tore his ACL in 1988 and underwent a further two reconstructive knee surgeries by 1996—but it’s difficult to see the relevance. After all, that was 20-plus years ago. We’ve made some medical strides since then. But let’s take a look at what we know. When Manning tore his ACL a second time, he was 29 years old—younger than Redd, but hardly by much. And while he did appear in 405 games afterwards, he only started 43 times.

But the trend is the trend: upon returning, Manning simply wasn’t the same. Neither was Redd, nor Howard.

We could even look to Derrick Rose, who at 23 years old tore the ACL in his left knee, then didn’t play at all the following season only to come back and tear the meniscus in his right knee after only 10 games. But do we really have to? He has yet to play a full season since the second tear—although it wasn’t an ACL, in this case—and guess what? He has not been the same.

If you’re a Bucks fan desperately seeking an optimistic outlook, take solace in Jabari’s age, I suppose. Hope for the best. What else can one do? But outside of that, and more crucially, remember…

Jabari Parker is 21 years old.

Nobody should have to go through this, physically or mentally. And no career deserves to be altered so dramatically, especially one that never really got the chance to take off.

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