As most are now aware, DeJuan Blair is missing both of his ACLs. While in high school, Blair tore both ACLs and had them surgically repaired. Unfortunately, the surgeries were unsuccessful as it has been revealed that he does not have either ACL. After the surgeries, his body must have rejected the repaired ACLs and absorbed them. I had many questions about DeJuan Blair's knees so I decided to find the most knowledgeable person possible in order to get some answers. Enter Steve Stratton, PHD, PT, ATC and founder of Steven Stratton Physical Therapy located in San Antonio, TX.
Steve Stratton is an extremely interesting man. He graduated from BYU Cum Laude while also earning First Team Academic All American honors in NCAA football as a full back in 1973. Oh, and by the way, he did this while playing without an ACL. Since he suffered from the same injury, Stratton was extremely knowledgeable on the subject. Stratton told me that before playing football, he was a power lifter and when he hurt his knee, doctors diagnosed it as a simple sprain so he continued lifting. It was not until years later, when he tore his meniscus, that doctors x-rayed his knee to find an empty socket where his ACL should have been. He explains, "I was so strong from power lifting that tearing my ACL did not impact my performance to the point that any alarm bells were set off. So I continued with a torn ACL and over time, my body absorbed it."
Dr. Stratton began our discussion by explaining that the ACL is simply a stabilizer of the knee, and is not the most critical stabilizer; that would be the PCL. He said 95% of athletes that have their ACL surgically repaired return to their sport. He explained that he played running back at BYU for two years and had his ACL-less knee hit every way imaginable without any problems. It is not unheard of for a person without an ACL, or two, to have a lengthy, successful athletic career.
However, a knee without an ACL is an injured knee that can give at any moment. The wrong tweak or hit could damage the PCL, at which point it would be game over. I then asked, "How many years can we expect from DeJuan Blair?" I pointed out that his knee injury occurred while he was in high school and he played college basketball at Pitt without re-injuring it. The doctor responded that all he could say for certain was that Blair would not be able to play as long as he would have if both knees were healthy. He clarified that there is no way to know how an individual's body will cope with not having either ACL. "It's all about his genes." Person A may be missing both ACLs and blow out his knee tomorrow whereas Person B without either ACL may live into his 50's without the wear and tear catching up to him.
At this point, I realized that when Stratton tore his ACL, it went unnoticed and his body absorbed the injury leaving him without an ACL. I told the doctor that DeJuan Blair had surgery to repair both ACLs, but his body rejected the scar tissue and absorbed both. To this he responded in a slightly disconcerted way. He explained that any surgery, even the most perfectly executed surgery known to man, results in wear and tear because the body must heal the affected area. Given that the surgeries were unsuccessful, Blair's knees went through unneeded wear and tear, which is clearly not a good thing. Without an ACL, you are in a constant battle with wear and tear, as you are down a knee stabilizer. Stratton said that strengthening the muscles that surround the knee can slow the wear and tear, but not eliminate it. The unsuccessful surgeries serve to further reduce the shelf-life of Blair's knees.
I asked Stratton if Blair was experiencing any daily pain. I told him that I have not heard Blair mention anything about pain in his knees, but I thought he might just be doing his best to not cause alarm. He responded that Blair is most likely not experiencing any pain whatsoever. Blair is a huge, strong man and is only 20 so his body should be feeling great. The doctor cautioned, once again, that the wrong tweak or hit to the knee could change everything.
So what can we take from this? Should we be worried? Well, if that's your nature, feel free. Clearly there is reason to be worried. The guy doesn't have any ACLs! But, as Dr. Stratton pointed out, there is no way of predicting how Blair's knees will handle life in the NBA without either ACL. The fact that he played injury free at Pitt is a good sign. In addition, the weight that Blair lost will help. Dr. Stratton said that having less weight for his knees to absorb will clearly be beneficial. I plan on enjoying every game that DeJuan 'Heavy D' Blair can give us. If that's 10 years, fantastic. If it's 3, then so be it. Let's just not spend his entire career worrying about something that neither he, nor we, can control.