NBA: Utah Jazz at Philadelphia 76ers
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Sixers Big Man Tracker

Joel Embiid’s injury and all the different things the Sixers said about it: A timeline

Embiid had surgery on his meniscus March 24. It was deemed “successful,” whatever that means.

NBA: Utah Jazz at Philadelphia 76ers
Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports
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Updated Friday, March 24, 8:45 p.m.

The Sixers announced Wednesday that star rookie center Joel Embiid will undergo surgery on his torn meniscus in the coming days. The Process is broken. Busted. Torn.

Update: Embiid had surgery in Los Angeles. He put it on Instagram.

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This news wasn’t unexpected, as reports and rumors over the last two weeks had led everyone with half a brain to assume Embiid would be having surgery. And yet, this injury went from him being “fine” and the team just using “extreme caution,” to him being “day-to-day,” to him dancing at a Meek Mill concert, to him being “out indefinitely” but not needing surgery to, well, where we are today.

The end result is this: Embiid needs surgery, and the Sixers have either been purposefully deceitful to the public or are medically incompetent. It almost has to be one of those two things.

A brief (read: not brief) timeline of Embiid’s knee injury:

January 20, 2017: Embiid fell awkwardly while dunking in the Sixers’ 93-92 win over Portland. (The fall is at the 2:00 mark.)

People were concerned.

Embiid was not concerned, saying after the game, “I knew it was OK. I just landed the wrong way. I’m great. The knee’s fine. They did an MRI and stuff, everything looked good.”

Sixers head coach Brett Brown said, “The review is that he hyperextended his left knee. There was a minor tweak again, and for precautionary reasons only, the doctors did not allow him to return. There will be more information given as we know it. But quickly, that’s what we know.”

January 21, 2017: Embiid did not play in the Sixers’ loss to Atlanta. Having played Friday, he was not scheduled to play in back-to-back games anyway.

January 24, 2017: Embiid was ruled out of both games of a Tuesday-Wednesday back-to-back with the Clippers and Bucks, but the team announced they hoped Embiid would play that Friday against the Rockets on ESPN. The injury to his knee was being called a contusion.

January 27, 2017: Embiid was listed as questionable, but did play in the nationally-televised game against the Rockets, scoring 32 points on 11-of-20 shooting, with seven rebounds, four assists, three steals and two blocks. It was, arguably, his best game of the season, and led to many to continue to clamour for his inclusion in the NBA All-Star game. Embiid played 28 minutes in the 123-118 loss. He also did this:

January 29, 2017: Embiid missed the Sixers’ next game, a 121-108 loss to Chicago. He’d miss every game the rest of the season, but at the time, the team was still ruling him out on a game-by-game basis.

January 30, 2017: Embiid was ruled out for the next three games. Brown told reporters, “There’s no red flags here. It’s just us going overboard, making sure we’re doing the right thing with what all learning is a very important person in our program.”

Brown indicated at that time he hoped Embiid would still play in the NBA Rising Stars Challenge during the league’s All-Star weekend. “I think it’s an opportunity that if he’s able to do it, which we believe he’ll able to do it, he should take advantage of it.”

February 8, 2017: “There’s no conspiracy theory going on.”

That’s what Brown told reporters the day Embiid missed his seventh straight game — and 10 out of 11 — with what was still being called a knee contusion. Brown said Embiid was “not too far away” and used the term “extreme caution.”

“It is taking so long because we are just erring, we will err on extreme caution,” Brown said, via CSN Philly. “Joel is as good a fighter as I’ve coached in regards to challenging everybody … “But it shouldn’t be read into or assumed something is wrong because it isn’t. Everybody understands I think, we’ve heard it so much over the years, that we’re just moving slowly and trying to move wisely.”

Conspiracy theories arose, from Embiid being really hurt and the team downplaying it, to the team resting him to showcase other big men for trades, to the team tanking again.

The team continued to suggest his return was imminent.

February 10, 2017: Meek Mill Concert

Embiid said after dancing on stage at a Meek Mill concert that he was just a 22-year old guy having fun and that his knee felt fine. “Meek invited me to the stage,” Embiid said. “I had fun. That’s what I’m about, just enjoying life.”

Sixers GM Bryan Colangelo expressed concern, saying he was “a little bit disappointed” in Embiid.

Update: Reader Joe Smith shared this, from WIP’s afternoon show on February 10th.

February 11, 2017: Derek Bodner reported that Embiid had a torn meniscus in his left knee. 

There is some thought that the torn meniscus could be a pre-existing condition which an ensuing MRI discovered, rather than caused by the fall on January 20th, although the two injuries being related has not been completely ruled out.

The tear is a low-grade tear and is not expected to require surgical intervention.

February 11, 2017: Shortly after Bodner’s report, Colangelo confirmed the meniscus tear to the media before the Sixers’ 117-109 win over Miami. Embiid did not play, but that was not announced until the day of the (home) game.

“A lot of players do play with minor tears,” Colangelo said via NBA.com. “Once again, the injury is thought to be mostly about the bone bruise and that’s what he’s being treated for. If he can show he is healthy and able to play, there is no reason he shouldn’t play. This is not thought to be a severe injury.”

February 12, 2017: CBS Sports reported that the meniscus tear was “slight” and the team would hold Embiid out through the All-Star break, cautioning if the tear got worse, surgery might be an option. CBS NBA reporter Matt Moore ended his piece this way:

We’ll see what happens. The good news is that Ben Simmons should join the team sometime in the coming weeks.

D’oh.

February 15, 2017: The NBA announced Embiid would not participate in the Rising Stars Challenge or Skills Challenge during NBA All-Star weekend.

February 23, 2017: Embiid told reporters he was unhappy with how the team handled his injury updates as the Sixers announced he would miss four games after the All-Star break, slated to return March 3.

Embiid went through a full practice, but team doctors thought he needed time to get back into game shape. They also wanted him to be symptom free, and there was some reported swelling still in his knee.

February 24, 2017: The Sixers announced Ben Simmons would not play all season. When asked about the injuries, Colangelo said, “There was no effort to deceive fans, deceive the media. Injuries are unpredictable.”

He did admit using the term “day-to-day” on Embiid’s injury was wrong. He said the team should have used the term “out indefinitely.”

February 27, 2017: Embiid ruled ‘out indefinitely.’

“With respect to what’s developed over the last couple of days, it’s quite simple, Joel developed a little bit of swelling and soreness,” Sixers president Bryan Colangelo said during Monday’s edition of Philly Sports Talk. “We’re reacting in a way that’s proactive. We wanted to be more communicative with our fans. We wanted to make sure that there’s less question about whether or not he would be available. This is literally changing out for the next two games now to out indefinitely.”

When asked about potential surgery, Colangelo was evasive.

“With all due respect, medical injuries are injuries that require care and attention,” Colangelo said. “When I take information that comes from the medical team, including doctors and the training staff and the physiotherapists, we apply it as instructed and we do that to protect the athlete. In a case of jumping into someone’s knee to operate, when the circumstances are known but the conditions and how he’s reacting to certain things are still unknown, I think you go through the planned progression of steps as prescribed and evaluated by doctors.”

March 1, 2017: The Sixers announced Embiid was out for the season. He still had swelling — or “swellness” as the team initially reported via Twitter — and doctors opted to shut him down for the season.

Update: Marshall Harris from CSN shared this as well:

March 2, 2017: Embiid tweets he will be back soon, saying “The process has been postponed for this minor setback.”

March 16, 2017: Bob Cooney reported that Embiid joined the team on their West Coast swing to meet one of his doctors in Los Angeles. The Sixers announced Embiid had stayed behind to meet with Dr. David Martin, the team’s director of performance research and development. The two went to San Diego to see another specialist.

Per Cooney, the team indicated no timetable for anything.

Surgery hasn’t been something the Sixers have discussed, but according to two orthopedic surgeons, it would seem probable. A minor repair could mean a six-to-eight-week recovery. If the tear is bigger, a recovery of six to eight months could be required. The team has said numerous times that the tear is “slight” and “minor.”

March 22, 2017: With surgery speculation rampant for a full week, ESPN’s Marc Stein reported it was “very likely” Embiid would go under the knife.

Stein initially reported the injury occurred in practice in January, a note Sixers sources refuted. He then corrected his report to state it happened in the game against Portland.

March 22, 2017: Shortly after Stein’s report, the team announced Embiid will undergo surgery.

March 23, 2017: Embiid still has a sense of humor about things.

March 24, 2017: The Sixers deadline for season ticket renewals.

UPDATE: 

March 24, 2017: 

Embiid underwent what the Sixers deemed “successful” surgery Friday. The surgery was performed by Dr. Neal ElAttrache in Los Angeles, in conjunction with the Sixers medical staff. The team release a statement from Dr. ElAttrache:

“The overall status of Joel’s lateral meniscus and his cartilage is very good. Today’s procedure focused on removing a small portion of the meniscus that was responsible for his symptoms. The recovery program that has been established targets Joel transitioning back to full weight-bearing in approximately two weeks, at which point a conservative approach to his rehabilitation will be introduced.”

Team doctors indicated they expect him to resume basketball activities by the summer.

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Embiid played in less than half the team’s games this season, limiting his minutes in those in which he did suit up. The Sixers drafted Embiid out of Kansas and knew he was injured at the time, but never expected it to take two full seasons to get him on the court. By this season’s end, Embiid will have played 31 out of a possible 246 NBA games in his career.

It would be one thing if it was just Embiid. But it’s other Sixers stars, too. Frankly, it’s uncertain which is the bigger concern: That a team can so willingly withhold the truth about the health of its star players, or that the medical staff for a professional sports franchise can be so consistently unable to both diagnose and heal its players — injuries which, when incurred by guys on other teams, seem to require a much less lengthy recovery.

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Ben Simmons is missing the entire season after suffering a Jones fracture in his foot, an injury that usually takes a three to four months to heal. Sixers GM Bryan Colangelo cited “genetic things” for why Simmons is healing slower than most players with a similar injury.

Jahlil Okafor had surgery on his meniscus one year ago, and he’s still suffering through knee pain, missing games and icing his knee in contests in which he plays, like last night’s loss to OKC.

The Sixers signed Jerryd Bayless to be their starting point guard before this season. He was diagnosed with a ligament injury in his wrist in mid October, opted not to have surgery, rehabbed and played played in three games in November. He “re-injured” the wrist in one of those games and was shut down for the year when he had surgery in December.

Nerlens Noel missed the Sixers pre-season and the start of the regular season this year because he opted to have surgery the team deemed “elective,” then chose to rehab the injury in Alabama rather than with the team. Upon his return, the team benched Noel, until Embiid and Okafor’s injury issues forced him to get minutes. When the Sixers started winning, Noel got more time, then received even more minutes once Embiid went down. The team traded Noel — a restricted free agent at season’s end — rather than Okafor, which many reports suggested was because they couldn’t trade Okafor after concerns about his injury issues.

NBA seasons are long. Players get hurt. Maybe the Sixers aren’t actually any “more” hurt than other teams, their injuries are just more notable. Nobody really knows, because the team never seems to say the same thing twice, and the story changes by the day.