Familiar Face At Raptors Practice




Mike Ulmer has worked for seven news organizations including the National Post and, most recently, the Toronto Sun. Mike has written about the Toronto sports scene for more than 10 years and has penned several books on sports and culture.



February 28, 2008

(TORONTO) -- Exile and return course through every pro sports team. Injured players generally withdraw subtly from the group or go home altogether. They are ghosts on the roster and the scenario intensifies if the injury is a recurring one.

Exile and return course through every pro sports team. Injured players generally withdraw subtly from the group or go home altogether. They are ghosts on the roster and the scenario intensifies if the injury is a recurring one.

Betrayed by their bodies, they feel culled from the herd and although they are immensely welcome - every teammate has experienced injury and the terrifying isolation it brings - they know better than to be prominent.

Only after all the other players had run the Raptors practice court did Jorge Garbajosa shed his crutches and push a few shots toward the rim.

He did so as gingerly as he could, often lifting his battered left leg and angle as if to remove the temptation to jump.

Eleven weeks after surgery to repair his leg, this marked Garbajosas second trip on the court. He tried his luck quietly on Wednesday but when the media spied him shooting on Thursday, the jig was up.

Before facing the cameras, Garbajosa handed his crutches to team officials.

He hates the sight of the crutches and wont be photographed beside them. For that reason, he is reluctant to go to home games.

Garbajosa was originally injured 11 months ago. He returned to play internationally last September but consented to another round of surgery in December.

It has been, he said, a very tough time.

Its really hard. At the beginning when you start the rehab you dont know what you have to do and youre excited because you are taking a step ahead now. I know everything that I have to do. Its hard to concentrate and motivate and come back again but I have a lot of help from my family, coaches, teammates, the team, to keep my head up.

Garbajosa will not be back this year but the combination of a serious leg injury and limitless time to worry about it is a wicked combination. The antidote: progress, no matter how incremental.

The days are going by and Im feeling better, said Garbajosa. Its not enough. Its just the second day where I can just stand a little bit. Its isnt a big change but for me its very important.

T.J. Ford understands. The isolation. The doubt. All of it.

He lost 24 games to a stinger that traces back to a spinal condition. He has already lost one season to the condition and this time, he wondered if coming back was worth the risk. He nods when the crutches are mentioned.

Thats anybody. Nobody wants anybody to see them like that. Trust me, when I was hurt, I would stay in the house. If I had to go somewhere I went but it wasnt something where I would be doing public appearances.

Outside there was always the remarks. You look good. You look thin. How is the injury? When do you think youre coming back?

A recurring injury is definitely harder, Ford said.

Its stressful man. Its stressful because youre out for a long period of time. Youre still part of the team but youre not really part of the team. Youre not interactive with everything that goes on day to day. You have more free time although your mind wanders. Its hard to watch basketball. Its hard to be a part of everything that goes with it.