After competing for their college teams and then slogging through the Olympic trials, after falling short in Seoul and then soaring in their initial NBA games, after 14 months of games and practices and practices and games, many of the rookies from the 1988 U.S. team are finding it hard to walk, let alone play. Four of the seven Olympians now in the pros—along with forward J.R. Reid of North Carolina—have suffered disabling injuries or illnesses. The most seriously hurt is forward Danny Manning of the Los Angeles Clippers. The No. 1 pick in the draft, Manning underwent surgery Jan. 11 to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee.
Troy Young, the trainer for the U.S. team in Seoul, believes the rash of ailments is no coincidence. "I can see where even the chicken pox of [ Bucks guard] Jeff Grayer is remotely related," he says. "Their bodies are worn down, and they can be vulnerable to injuries or illnesses." Regarding Manning, Young says, "I don't think fatigue was a factor, but I can't rule it out."
Manning, who had averaged 16.7 points and 6.6 rebounds in 26 games, injured the knee when he landed on it after going in for a layup in Milwaukee on Jan. 4. The reconstructive procedure uses a tendon from the right leg to replace the damaged ligament. The knee will need 9 to 12 months of rehabilitation, but according to some orthopedists, he may never return to his preinjury form. The Clippers, however, are optimistic because of the 6'10" Manning's youth (he's 22) and flexibility. The fact that he's righthanded may help too. "Most righthanded players push off their left leg, so that's a plus," says Dr. Tony Daly, the team's physician. "But we'll have to wait and see."
Another Clipper forward, Charles Smith, has been sidelined at various times with sore knees, a sprained right wrist and a strep throat. "It's just too much playing," says Smith, who is averaging 14.3 points and 5.8 rebounds. "I began to get conscious of it when my knee started bothering me on the second day of camp. Now I'm doing all sorts of preventive-type exercises."
Grayer had already been on the injured list twice, with chicken pox and with a hyperextended left knee, when he tore cartilage in the same knee while going up for a dunk in practice on Jan. 2. All told, he had missed 29 games as of Sunday. "I guess my body just got to a level where it had to rest, and it gave out on me," says Grayer, who was averaging 7.4 points and 3.2 rebounds.
Phoenix guard Dan Majerle was scoring 9.0 points per game and pulling down 4.1 rebounds before going down with mononucleosis and an enlarged spleen on Dec. 17. He will be sidelined for at least another month. In a 10-day period before he learned he had mono, Majerle suffered a sprained left ankle and a badly bruised elbow.
"I don't know if it was too much basketball or if I didn't handle things right," says Majerle. "I don't think I ate properly, and I didn't do the things I needed to stay healthy."