WASHINGTON -- While some professional athletes have become synonymous with injuries because of how their careers have been derailed, there is a flip-side where others have become famous success stories. Nowadays, when an NFL running back tears his ACL, Adrian Peterson's name is often invoked. Rudy Gay is to a certain extent similar in the NBA for torn Achilles tendons.
In January of 2017, when he was with the Kings, Gay collapsed in agony while playing the Indiana Pacers. He suffered a full tear of his left Achilles tendon. He was 30 years old and a player whose game was predicated on athleticism.
Now in his third season since the injury, Gay is a key member of the San Antonio Spurs' rotation at the age of 33. In those two-plus seasons, he has played 140 games with solid numbers of 12.6 points, 6.1 rebounds per game and a .534 effective field-goal percentage.
Gay is one of the testimonials that should give the Wizards hope for John Wall, who is currently nine months into his own Achilles rehab. In fact, Gay spoke to Wall months ago about the road ahead.
"When it first happened, I talked to him," Gay said. "I'm always like anytime that happens to anybody in the league, they hit me up and I tell them exactly how I did it. I did the same thing with Kobe [Bryant]. I called him and he told me exactly what I needed to do and I followed that."
Gay told Wall, as he has told others in recent years, that the hardest part is not getting your leg back to 100 percent. What Gay found particularly difficult was clearing his head of the fear he would have the same injury again.
"It's mentally knowing when you go through that injury and the act of having that injury, the time always goes through your mind - 'what move did I make for that to happen?' Once you get that out of your mind, you're good," Gay said.
Gay said it took him a year to get over that. He also had to block out a lot of noise to remain confident in his ability to return.
"A lot of people have this image where they see it as a death wish for this sport. But you can't think like that when you're going through the rehab because it will affect you," he said.
Gay was a top high school prospect from Baltimore, Md. and starred at the University of Connecticut before going eighth overall in the 2006 NBA Draft. He has long been known as a leaper, able to play well above the rim with his 6-foot-8 frame.
Because of that, there was plenty of skepticism over whether Gay would be able to affect games in the same way. But in Wednesday's game between the Wizards and Spurs, Gay showed he still has that jumping ability, even at his age and with his health history.
In the second half, Gay drove right and reached up for a rim-rattling slam. He jumped off his left leg, the same one that had the torn Achilles.
It was another reminder of what he has overcome. Tearing your Achilles used to be a devastating injury that ended many careers. Now there are people like Gay, still getting it done at the highest level.
He takes pride in being a success story, but also finds it strange to have that distinction.
"That's not why I did it. I did it just so I could prove to myself. I wasn't really trying to prove it to anybody, I was just trying to prove to myself I could get healthy and get back to the NBA. I think I did it at . Everyone told me it would be tough to come back. Even my doctor told me I wouldn't be myself. The more people that told me I couldn't do it, the more it made me want to," he said.
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