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1987 NBA PLAYOFFS : Less Than Hearty, McHale Is Risking Future on Bad Foot

Times Staff Writer

It has come to the point where Kevin McHale may be rolling the dice on his basketball career every time he steps on the court.

Each time he plays, the Boston Celtics forward is risking aggravating the fracture he has in the bone on the inside of his right foot. That could result in a further separation of the bone.

Yet, McHale, who was examined here Wednesday by Dr. Tony Daly, the physician who has treated Boston center Bill Walton’s foot problems, plans to play tonight against the Lakers in Game 2 of the National Basketball Assn. finals.

The Lakers lead the best-of-seven series, 1-0, after Tuesday night’s runaway 126-113 win at the Forum.

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“Oh, absolutely,” McHale said Wednesday afternoon. “Hell, yeah. I’m going to continue to play on it.”

Dr. Thomas Silva, the Celtics’ team physician, said Wednesday that because McHale has persisted in playing since the injury was discovered April 28, he has already aggravated the condition.

Silva continued to describe the injury as a stress fracture, which is related to overuse. But Daly, after examining X-rays and speaking to McHale, believes the injury was the result of a one-time episode, suffered when McHale’s foot was stepped on in a game against Phoenix March 11.

“It’s amazing to me he can play,” said Daly, commenting on the considerable pain McHale is in during a game. “I don’t know how he’s played since March.”

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Daly said that as soon as the season is over, McHale will require surgery, involving the placement of screws in the bone. The doctor estimated it will be about four months before he’ll be able to play again.

“It’s his decision (to play tonight),” Daly said. “I can only point out the risks and stuff.

“I think it’ll be OK. My gut feeling is if it hasn’t loosened by now, it won’t.

” . . . If it had happened yesterday, my advice would be different: I would tell him not to play.”

Silva acknowledged that McHale, who is being paid $1 million by the Celtics this season, is risking his future by playing.

“Surgery to that part of the body,” Silva said, “certainly puts his career in jeopardy. It’s not a life-or-death situation, but it does affect his ability to play basketball.”

Boston Coach K.C. Jones said he is planning on McHale’s playing.

“He says he’s going to play,” Jones said. “When they carry him off the floor, that’s the last game he can play.

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“It’s not my decision. It’s the doctor’s decision, as well as his. I don’t know medicine.”

Dr. Silva’s recommendation?

“I’m going to have to put a guarded statement on that,” he said. “There have been discussions between Kevin and myself and the hierarchy of this team.

“So much depends upon an individual like Kevin, who is so motivated and so much a part of this team. He’s a first-string all-star.

“I’m going to support him on whatever decision he makes. . . . I’m not ready to say, ‘Kevin, you should not play basketball.’ ”

Is it fair that the decision be left entirely to McHale, who reportedly has seen four specialists, including Daly, who examined McHale Tuesday morning before practice?

Larry Bird thinks not. And Walton is believed to have counseled his teammate not to play.

“If it’s major surgery, I say, ‘Get his butt out of here,’ ” Bird said.

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“It’s a hell of a burden to place on a guy, especially in the finals. It takes the pressure all off (Celtic management).

“I say, ‘Go on home.’ I wouldn’t even chance it.

“They knew this three months ago. If Kevin was jeopardizing his future, Dr. Silva should have told him. . . . I can’t imagine putting pressure on a guy like that.

“They know Kevin’s hurting and he’s given us everything. That’s why we’re here.”

Tuesday night, McHale scored 15 points and grabbed 5 rebounds while proving physically incapable of guarding Laker forward James Worthy, who scored 33 points.

Those numbers were far below McHale’s regular-season averages of 26.1 points and 9.8 rebounds a game.

“Kevin McHale is capable of 30-15 nights,” Laker Coach Pat Riley said.

But since the night of March 11, when Larry Nance of the Phoenix Suns stepped on his right foot, which is when McHale sprained ligaments in his right ankle--and, Daly believes, suffered the fracture--McHale’s production has suffered.

It wasn’t immediately apparent. In the next game, at Indiana, McHale scored 30 points, making 14 of 17 shots.

But since then, he has scored more than 30 points just once in his last 28 games--May 10 at Milwaukee, when he scored 34 points while playing 56 minutes in Boston’s 138-137 double-overtime win over the Bucks.

After the Celtics’ first game of the playoffs, against Chicago April 23, McHale said he was feeling as good as he had since suffering the injury. But late in the first half of the next game, McHale’s problem was compounded when he stepped on Michael Jordan’s foot and collided with Charles Oakley, severely spraining the same right ankle.

The next day, April 28, McHale was examined by Dr. John Hefferon, the Chicago Bulls’ physician, who diagnosed the injury as an incomplete fracture. Hefferon was familiar with the injury, having diagnosed the stress fracture for Jordan, who missed nearly all of the 1985-86 season.

McHale sat out the last game of the Chicago series and the first game of the Milwaukee series, then resumed playing.

Silva said that he has examined McHale a number of times in the last month, including both Monday and Tuesday.

“I’m very concerned about him and his future in this series,” Silva said. “I don’t think Kevin was able to execute that well last night. There is evidence he has aggravated the injury in the past month in the series against Milwaukee and Detroit.”

By playing, Silva was asked, could McHale be jeopardizing his livelihood?

“I think that’s a fair statement, yes,” Silva replied.

So why is McHale playing?

“Personally, I don’t think anything else will happen,” McHale said. “I hope it doesn’t get any worse.

“Sometimes hoping and praying can do more than worrying. I’m just going to let the chips fall where they may.”

Yes, McHale said, there are times he can’t do some of the things he was doing before he was hurt.

“It’s been like this for so long I don’t remember what it felt like when it was good,” he said. “I’m not a doctor, I’m an athlete. If I was a rocket scientist, I’d be at MIT now.

“I’m going to get it fixed. It probably is going to bump into some part of next year before I play again.”

But for now--be it gallantry or foolishness, coercion or free will--he plans to play on.

“I wish people would stop asking me about my foot,” he said.


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