Larry Bird knows the devastating effect a nagging back injury can have on an NBA player's career and gave New York Knicks big man Amar'e Stoudemire some perspective on how to handle his own pain.
"My back problems cost me at least three or four years," the Boston Celtics great told the New York Daily News. "After I hurt it, I always played with spasms. To fix the instability and get the disc out of there, they had to fuse my back. But I kept playing because I wanted to get that last championship, or play for one more championship. That was just me."
It's been 20 years since the Hall of Fame player suited up for an NBA game— which was cut short by the back problems— and he sees the same woes with Stoudemire.
This is the second serious back injury in the last 11 months for the 30-year-old Stoudemire and he still has three guaranteed years on a five-year, $100 million contract.
The Knicks forward missed another game last night after the Indiana Pacers came back to score 40 points in the fourth quarter to give the Knicks a 112-104 loss— and a precarious 1 1/2 game lead for the final playoff spot. All Stoudemire could do was watch.
The Knicks haven't given any indication on if Stoudemire will return at all before the final 12 games of the regular season or the playoffs.
For now, he'll be spending more time in the training room than hitting the court— something Bird knows a lot about.
Bird— who hurt his back laying asphalt in his mother's driveway one offseason— did everything he could to keep playing.
The lasting image of his final NBA playing days was of the hulking Bird, lying on his stomach in front of the Celtics bench, trying to keep his back stretched out
"I'm sure he'll come back and be fine for a while," said Bird. "But how long will it last? You don't know.
"When you have instability in the back because of bulging discs or nerve problems, it's hard to feel your feet and run," Bird claimed. "I don't know what he's got. I ain't talking about his injuries. But backs are tricky. It still bothers me, but nothing like it did."
Stoudemire's decision is similar to what was Bird's— suffer and win now or play it safe for the future.
"Every back injury is different," Bird said. "I knew guys who had bulging discs, but they didn't hit the nerve. So they had stiffness, but it didn't hurt. There's things you can do for it. The technology has changed since I got hurt, and the doctors are different. You just hope you can deal with it."
Dealing with a losing season might be what seems important to Stoudemire right now.