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Nixon, Clippers Get Another Setback : He Tears Achilles’ Tendon and Is Lost for Second Season in Row

Times Staff Writer

Clipper guard Norman Nixon’s season and perhaps his pro basketball career ended shortly before 1 p.m. Wednesday when he ruptured the Achilles’ tendon in his right ankle near the end of practice at Cal State Dominguez Hills.

Nixon, who missed the entire 1986-87 National Basketball Assn. season after rupturing a tendon above his left knee while playing softball, will undergo surgery today at Daniel Freeman Marina Hospital.

Asked if he plans to resume his career, Nixon, 32, said: “I don’t want to talk about it. If this was my free-agent year I’d probably quit, but I’ve got a couple years left on my contract, so I’ll probably try to come back.

“But right now I just want to disappear for a while.”

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Nixon collapsed while cutting to the basket during a scrimmage. No one touched him.

“Damn!” Nixon shouted as his stunned teammates surrounded him. “What happened? Did someone kick me?”

Coach Gene Shue, standing nearby, knew immediately what had happened.

“When I was coaching in Baltimore, I saw the same thing happen to Kevin Porter,” Shue said. “Nobody touched him, and he went down. And he couldn’t get up and walk again.”

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Nixon, clutching his injured right leg, was carried off the court and into the training room, where he was examined by Clipper trainer Bernie LaReau.

“I heard it pop,” rookie Reggie Williams said. “I was standing in back of him, and he thought I had kicked him in the leg.”

After LaReau had examined Nixon, his teammates carried him to his car, and a friend, Todd Eskw, drove him to the office of team physicians Dr. Tony Daly and Dr. Eugene Osher in Marina del Rey.

Osher’s examination confirmed LaReau’s preliminary diagnosis and the Clippers’ worst fears. Osher and Daly will operate on Nixon this morning. Nixon will be in a cast for 6 to 8 weeks and then will begin therapy.

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“We’ll know more once surgery is done,” Osher said. “But it looks like a complete rupture. It’s a difficult injury, but many players have come back from it.

“You can’t predict an injury like this. It’s like predicting earthquakes. It can happen to anyone.”

Said Daly, who operated on Nixon’s left knee in the summer of 1986: “This is really a shame. Norm has worked so hard to rehabilitate from the knee injury. . . . He was in very good shape.”

Nixon, walking on crutches, said as he left the doctor’s office: “It’s just one of those things. . . . I was really looking forward to this season. I worked so hard to get ready. This is going to be a hard thing to come back from. I’m really disappointed.

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“The bad thing is I had just started to feel really good, and then this happens.

“This (was going to be) my season. This means another year of therapy and waiting. And therapy is harder than playing.

“Last summer, it was hard waiting to get back, and now it’s going to be the same situation.

“It’s going to be tough going to games. I just hate to be on the sidelines watching again.”

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Actress Debbie Allen, Nixon’s wife, met him at the doctor’s office and blamed the Clippers for her husband’s latest injury.

“I’m mad because they haven’t had a day off since training camp began,” she said. “And they were playing on a (hard) floor that even the coach didn’t like.

“But if anybody can come back from this, Norm can.”

Told of Allen’s comments, Shue said: “I coach Norm Nixon. My relationship is with Norm, not Debbie. What does a player’s wife know about the floor?”

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Shue, trying to rebuild the Clippers after last season’s 12-70 record, said the team obviously will miss Nixon. The Clippers will open their 1987-88 season Friday night at Denver.

Shue was counting on Nixon’s leadership to help turn the team around.

“It’s really a blow for the team, but I feel very badly for Norm,” Shue said. “Norm looked like he was just starting to get really sharp. He has incredible quickness.

“But my guess is that he’ll be back.”

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The Clippers reacted with shock to this latest setback in the team’s stormy four years in Los Angeles.

Nixon’s injury also put a damper on the Clippers’ preseason party, held Wednesday night at the Beverly Hills office of team owner Donald T. Sterling.

Said Alan Rothenberg, Clipper president: “This is really a tragedy. It’s a darned shame. I feel sorry for Norm because he worked so hard to overcome his last injury.”

Said Williams: “Norman is important to this team, and losing him is going to hurt us. But we have to pick up the pieces. We can’t dwell on this.”

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Said guard Darnell Valentine, who will fill in for Nixon along with guard Larry Drew: “I think everyone’s heart dropped when he got hurt.

“I know that there’s an old cliche that says you have to suck it up, but if things like this keep happening to us, pretty soon we’re not going to have anything left to suck up.

“We’re practicing in terrible facilities. And we’re still practicing twice a day while other teams have days off.”

One Clipper, who asked not to be identified, said that Nixon’s injury would affect center Benoit Benjamin, who has not matured as quickly as the team had hoped. “Norm was one of the few guys Ben responds to,” the player said.

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Shue said: “Benoit will have to make it on his own. But there’s no question that having Norm around helps him.”

Nixon, who would have been entering his ninth season in the NBA, averaged 16.4 points in six seasons with the Lakers and two with the Clippers.


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