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Only the Strong Survive: Part I

Marcus Fizer at the Berto Center Marcus Fizer has been logging some serious hours at the Bulls' practice facility this summer preparing for the 2003-04 season.
July 7, 2003

Just as he was emerging as a force off the Bulls’ bench in late January, it happened. Though he struggled at times during his first two seasons in the NBA—and even had his difficulties at the start of last season—Marcus Fizer was showing everyone he was really starting to get it.

He understood his role and he was starting to get a feel for how to be successful in the league. His statistics backed it up, too, as Fizer averaged 13.8 ppg and 6.4 rpg in 23.4 mpg, shooting 49.4 percent from the field over his last 29 games.

He was becoming one of the best sixth men in the NBA. Then ‘it’ happened and on January 31, 2003, Fizer suffered the dreaded injury of a torn ACL.

Surgery didn’t immediately follow. Rather, Fizer started with rehab right away to work on his knee’s range of motion and to get some of the swelling down.

“We weren’t so much concerned with strength immediately,” explained Eric Waters, the Bulls Assistant Athletic Trainer. “What we wanted to do was to get his extension back. The longer you wait to get full extension [of the leg], the more chance that there could be permanent damage—and you don’t want that. You could lose the function of your knee.”

One month after the injury, Fizer flew to Birmingham, Alabama, where famed orthopedic surgeon, Dr. James Andrews performed the operation.

“[Marcus] was a little depressed, as anyone would be if they have a serious injury like that,” Waters said of Fizer. “But to be honest, in terms of all the ACL people I’ve worked with, he was fairly upbeat. He was confident that he’d get over it, partially because he had talked to Jamal [Crawford, who suffered the exact same injury the year before] and seen first hand that he had made it all the way back.”

Despite his confidence, Fizer knew that the coming year would present enormous challenges.

Bulls.com caught up with the muscular power forward to hear how he’s handled the physical and mental challenges that the road to recovery has presented in the first half of a two-part interview (click here for the second half of the story).

It’s been almost five months since your injury. How would you summarize what you’ve been through in that time?

Marcus Fizer:
It hasn’t been as terrible as what some people might think. Your first reaction when you realize you have a torn ACL makes you cringe, but I never got that feeling. When I was told my ACL was torn, I shed tears for about thirty seconds and called my girlfriend. She and I talked, and that was it. I put the bad feeling behind me and immediately started looking forward to the rehab.

Marcus Fizer at the Berto Center "Your first reaction when you realize you have a torn ACL makes you cringe, but I never got that feeling," Fizer said. "I put the bad feeling behind me and immediately started looking forward to the rehab."
Did you know what the injury was when it happened?

I felt a pop, but it was more like a pop when you crack your knuckles or your wrist or your elbow. It was almost a pop that felt good and it was very deceiving because it didn’t hurt, even when I walked off the court. I remember continuing to try and lay the ball up and it was kind of tight but that was all I felt. It didn’t hurt until after the surgery.

At what level are you able to workout and/or compete right now? Are there still certain things you are limited from doing?

It was four months since my surgery on June 13. I’m beginning to run more but I still can’t do a lot with changes in direction. I’m running backwards and forward at about 95 percent and it’s been great to be on my feet and getting a sweat going. I personally feel [the ACL] is already a lot stronger than what the doctors think it is, but you have to go on what they say. The level that I was at before the injury was a level I had never been to before. I was extremely focused and was in the best shape I’ve been in since coming here. It was just a freak accident; now I now how it happened and I’m doing the things I can so hopefully it won’t happen again.

You were playing some of the best basketball in your pro career in those last two months.

I was in great shape and I had a nutritionist who got me a lot of supplements and different vitamins that help you maintain your focus and a level of energy that you need to play in this league. So I credit a lot of my success to her. She worked with me everyday and made sure I stayed on the things I needed to stay on. I was playing the best ball of my career.

What role has the Bulls’ staff played throughout this process?

They’ve been great and they’ve been behind me 100 percent. I was out on the court wanting to play a couple days ago because my leg was feeling so good but they pulled me off and slowed me down because they are here to look out for me. They want me to come back ready and not do anything foolish to hurt myself. They have me in here five days a week for two or three hours. I know it’s a long ordeal, but the big picture payoff in the end will be worth it.

What have you discovered about yourself as a person and as a basketball player?

I discovered that your season can end in just a fraction of a second. That is something that made me realize how focused I needed to be throughout this whole ordeal. Some people who’ve had this injury had it end their career. A lot of it isn’t just coming back from the injury. It’s coming back from the injury mentally. But it’s something that hasn’t burdened me at all; I put it in God’s hands and I trust Him 100 percent.

What has been the biggest challenge throughout your rehabilitation?

My biggest challenge has probably been not to gain too much weight and the fact that I can’t do the things I want to do on the court. You have a lot of cardiovascular work from riding a bike to Stairmaster and all that, but nothing is like being on the court. Being able to move like that and work up a sweat and get that total body workout, that’s how I tend to get in the best shape. That’s my main thing, not being able to be on the court. I lift weights everyday and I’m just as strong as I was from when I got hurt, it’s just the total cardiovascular workout I miss.

- Story and photos by Adam Fluck, Bulls.com

  • Click here now for the second half of this feature story on Marcus Fizer.