Julius Randle is likely out for the season after fracturing his right tibia some 13 minutes into his professional debut with the Los Angeles Lakers. The 19-year-old embodiment of optimism and hope for the Lakers' future went to the floor, surely in immense pain, while play continued on the other end. Four purple and gold jerseys lined up for free-throws, not knowing what happened, but reportedly hearing a "pop" before transitioning to defense. Randle was left behind on the floor, unable to get up on his own, and was minutes away from hearing the devastating news.
From the moment the camera panned back over and showed him holding his shin, it was clear this wasn't an ankle sprain, but something serious. Gary Vitti and the Lakers' training staff surrounded him, then put him in an air cast and brought out a stretcher. His teammates -- brothers, as Ed Davis put it after the game -- looked on in disbelief until they carried him onto the stretcher themselves. His mother Carolyn Kyles, who was in attendance, rushed to the tunnel as he was carted out of the stadium and headed straight to a hospital.
Suddenly, basketball stopped mattering. Randle would soon learn he'd be putting living the dream of playing in the NBA -- playing with his favorite player, on his favorite team growing up -- on hold. He'll be OK in the end, sure. There weren't any ligament tears, and a broken leg is something he can fully recover from given time. It doesn't soften the blow for the team, it doesn't make it any easier for a teenager who couldn't wait to play in the NBA, and the surreal nature of how things have bounced for the Lakers over the last three seasons is difficult to digest. How could this possibly happen?
This isn't the way to start the NBA season and this isn't the way to start an NBA career. Nothing feels right about it, akin to a bad dream that will be nothing more than that once it ends. But it won't end. No amount of pinching is going to wake the Lakers, Randle, or the fans out of this suffocating haze. An injury like this is going to have a huge impact on the Lakers' season, but before looking ahead at how this affects the team and trivializing what this means to a young man like Randle, let's focus on the things that matter first.
Forget the top-five protected pick, the win-loss column, and the future of the Lakers' rotation. All that matters right now is that Julius Randle has the personal and emotional support around him he needs to get through this difficult moment, and that he fully recovers physically. Basketball will go on, and on, and on. Sneakers and basketballs will punish the hardwood beyond Randle's career, and beyond our own lives. When the time's right, basketball will be the focus again. For now, it only feels appropriate to collectively grieve as a fan base and send our best wishes to the young man who couldn't wait to be a part of the Lakers organization.
This will be a challenge for him to overcome, and ultimately one can only hope this makes him stronger in the long run. Randle is prepared for this, though. He broke his foot during his senior year in high school and was sidelined for three months. He came back, finished his senior year averaging 32.5 points and 22.5 rebounds per game, and led Prestonwood Christian Academy to it's third state title in four years. He then went on to commit to Kentucky, one of the elite college basketball programs, and turned himself into a lottery pick in the NBA draft. Randle has bounced back from adversity before, and he'll do so again.
Take this anecdote on Randle's recovery after be broke his foot, scribed by Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Daily News:
"The challenge for me was I put in so much time and effort," Randle said. "I felt like I was playing the best I had ever played. I already knew I could go wherever I wanted to in college. But I was really ready to enjoy being with the team my senior year and going out with a bang."
Instead, Randle proved all the early lessons about hard work, staying positive and acting with humility meant something when things did not go his way.
After having surgery, Randle and Kyles threw out all snack food so he would not pig out while confined at home. He practiced shooting while sitting in a wheelchair.
It's also worth mentioning players deal with injuries all the time and come back without a hitch. If you want a great example of a young player coming back from this kind of injury, look at Blake Griffin. Or, stay in-house and look at James Worthy, who dealt with the same injury and had a phenomenal career. This isn't a point to marginalize Randle's situation, but to shed light on the one fact that will matter down the road: He will be OK. Randle is an incredibly confident, bright, young man who has impressed with his maturity, even at 19. He's been down this road before, albeit under lower-stakes, and knows the dedication it will take to recover.
He will put on a show when he charges down the court after devouring an offensive rebound. He will take his man off the dribble from the perimeter and bully his way into the paint. He will show off that southpaw touch, using angles and the glass like an engineer. Unfortunately for everyone, and Randle, it just wont be this season.
This is a dark day in Lakers history and will certainly go down as one of the worst season openers the team has ever endured. After going through the worst season in franchise history, the Lakers started the season in the most devastating way possible. For now, if only for a brief period, let's leave the logistics behind and allow ourselves to feel for Julius Randle. There's plenty of time to discuss X's and O's and what Byron Scott will have to do going forward. There's only one thing that matters after the heart-wrenching moment in Staples Center.
Get well soon, Julius Randle. Everyone is pulling for you.