Of Ankle Breakers and Glass – Ket – Ball

Of Ankle Breakers and Glass – Ket – Ball

Andrew Charniga


…. ‘it happens so often they even have a name for it’  

Figure 1. Offensive player quickly maneuvers around defender as he cuts to basket. The defender is unable to effectively maneuver in pursuit; because he is unable flex lower extremities to lower center of mass for a quick turn. Note the defensive player goes down with an ankle injury as the play be play announcer squeals “ankle breaker”. He is too in – elastic for such bending and sharp changes of direction.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ql5fFhn98C0;

Entertainment in the guise of sport, the NBA is the premier league of basketball. Billionaires own the teams. Cities vie for the privilege of becoming home to a franchise offering tax breaks and the like to build arenas for the would be home team.

In marketing the games to the ticket purchasing and/or tv viewing public, the NBA has resorted to various means of ramping up the excitement; bloviating about sensational athletic feats on the court. A case in point is the slam dunk contest. Various purveyors compete to see whom can make the most spectacular slam dunk.

The slam dunk sensations are a means for announcers, sports writers and the like to hype the prowess of the NBA’s super elite athletes; to entice fans to attend games and or watch the NBA on tv. However, that being said, regardless the histrionics preceding the goal; it is not a difficult task for a 6’7″ (2.00 M) and taller athlete, with great jumping ability, to dunk the ball in the goal while holding it above the rim. All other things being equal, the difficulty of making a goal in basketball rises with the receding distance from the hoop and of course the receding height of the player.

Various authors indicate an ankle injury is the most common ailment in American sport. Some estimate 45% of all sport injuries are ankle related (Kaminski, 2013). Indeed the proliferation of lower extremity injuries in football alone can attest; as most are ankle or ankle/foot related. The ankle injury is the most commonplace injury in basketball as well (see “Of flat tires and brittle basketball players”, Charniga, 2019)

A rather incongruous bloviation, perhaps benign in intent; nonetheless, bizarre in its impact; is the not so subtle hype accorded the ‘ankle breaker’s’ play. This innocuousness confirms and further reinforces the fundamental arguments in previous essays of injury mechanism (Charniga, 2016 – 19).

The hype surrounding the ankle breaker event further encompasses the entertainment masquerade of professional sport. Hyping such an unfortunate ubiquity in basketball as an ankle injury is bizarre to say the least.

So, what is an ‘ankle breaker’s play? The ankle breaker play happens when a offensive player fakes a defensive player in such a way as to cause him to fall to the court and/or in many cases to turn his ankle in the process; hobble off in pain, or leave the game with an ankle injury. 

Studies of terrestrial predator pursuit strategies has shown prey, even though slower that predator, have the advantage (Wilson, 2015).  Indeed a Cheetah, the world’s fastest terrestrial animal is successful capturing its prey only 50% of the time. This is because the slower but tricky elusiveness of the prey emanates from sudden and sharp changes in direction. 

This 50% rate is relatively high for animal standards. The Cheetah’s incredible speed is in no small measure due to its extraordinary suppleness. That being said, a Cheetah would be a very hungry animal indeed if it were suppleness deficient; exacerbated by joints taped and braced as is the average NBA player.

The sharp cuts or fakes initiated by an offensive player with the ball to move around a defensive can cause an ‘ankle breaker’ because the typically taped or otherwise joint braced and usually stiff defensive player has to quickly react with change of direction or sharp cuts to guard the elusive offensive player.


Figure 2. Ankle injuries in weightlifting are rare; Achilles injures all but unheard of  irregardless of an unanticipated fall; torquing knee, hips and ankles in multi – planes  with a heavy barbell in the hands. Charniga photo

Most of the attention in previous essays (Charniga, 2015 – 2019) focused on the inability for various athletes in American sports to make rapid shifts of direction, falling unexpectedly, ordinary bending of lower extremities and so forth without suffering abnormal; in many cases, catastrophic injury. The popularity of the three point play has as much to do with safety of the offensive player in basketball as the possibility of the extra point (Charniga, 2019). It is both safer and easier to shoot from beyond the three point line than to risk penetrating the defense; whether it be a zone or man to man. 

The coach’s proviso to his players below speaks volumes about safety on a basketball court. That is to say, a player is unlikely to get injured taking a “stand still” three point shot, while at the same time scoring points. It is the movement about the court that is dangerous; especially for those who are compliance compromised, i.e., too stiff to bend or more importantly, fall safely.

“The stand still  three point shot is a shot that everyone on this team has to be able to make”. Mike Krzyzewski, 2018

Arguably it is more difficult to defend the basket against an exceptionally talented player; think Michael Jordan driving to the basket facing a defender one on one. Even the world’s fastest animal (the Cheetah) is only successful 50% of the time catching a slower, but more maneuverable prey.

Consequently, defending the three point shot should be considered a safer alternative than defending a player dexterously driving to the basket. Defensive actions tend to be less aggressive the further the offensive player is from the basket.    

The defender in basketball must either be quicker, more mobile or effectively anticipate the offensive player’s intentions. Consequently, if the defender fails to anticipate, i.e., he must react when the offensive player makes his move; complex movements are required.

The circumstance is the same for the predator chasing a slower but more maneuverable prey. Unlike the typical NBA player, animals don’t have the luxury lacking suppleness and unnecessary weight in upper extremities which would serve to raise center of mass artificially. (see Figure 4).

Furthermore, the NBA’s pre – zone defense rules were designed to give the offensive player a further advantage in getting close to the basket for shooting a short distance from the goal or better yet, a technically easier goal: a slam dunk: 

“These rules made it very easy for the stars of the league to shine.”https://aminoapps.com/c/hoops/page/blog/how-zone-defense-changed-the-nba/o3aF_duBMl1KGM2baPd3L8W3GNnxoVW

Strength training exercises, especially sitting or lying prone with iso kinetic machines and the like cannot develop readily transferable qualities for athletes in dynamic sports. No one moves about the court seated, lying on the back, kneeling on an exercise ball nor jumping with machines (see Charniga, 2019,”Of flat tires and brittle basketball players”). The nervous enervation of muscles varies depending on posture, i.e., direction of force application (Wilson, 1996).    


Figure 3. Super elite NBA player injured, untouched, on defense.


Figure 4.  Two photos highlight two common, highly questionable practices in basketball. Unnecessary muscle mass in the upper extremities (figure on left). Exercising and testing with testing machines.

Figure 4 highlights just two circumstances which should be considered part and parcel of the injury problem in basketball and other American sports where these practices are commonplace. The first involves artificially raising body center of mass with unnecessary muscle mass in upper extremities.

The athlete in figure 4 flexing with arm shoulder musculature of a bodybuilder. A perfect of illustration of unnecessary muscle mass in the upper extremities; recall professional football’s combine test of maximum repetitions in the bench press with 102.5 kg. In this example, basketball players are among the tallest athletes; with high body center of mass, making change of direction and cutting difficult, i.e., lowering center of mass with large bending of lower extremities. Artificially raising center of mass by packing muscle on the upper extremities only exacerbates their ‘ankle breaker’ syndrome. And, this extra mass to play with a 1 kg ball?

The second highly questionable practice illustrated in figure 4 involves testing and evaluating the strength ratio between the muscles which straighten the knee (quadriceps) with those that flex it (hamstrings) knee with a testing machine. The machine measurements prove nothing because the neural input to the muscles differ relative to the position of the body. Different results have been obtained for the same muscle groups, from training the body in different positions  (Wilson, 1996).

Isolation exercises or testing machines like the one in the figure 4 have no logical nor practical application to dynamic sports. Strengthening leg muscles under controlled conditions, muscle isolation and so forth cannot have a positive carry over because the all the muscles of the lower extremities work together in coordinated movements, contracting and relaxing very fast; on the court or athletic field.

Muscles not typically associated in academia with flexing the knees such as tibialis anterior, gastocnemius or straightening the knee and hip such as soleus; developed, or ignored, with partial strength exercises and machines are out of sync with dynamic and complex explosive movements. The athletes, coaches,, trainers and so forth whom believe they are creating stable joints by working hamstrings and quadriceps according to an artificial strength ratio live in delusion – land .

Can this timeline be coincidence (see “Of flat tires and brittle basketball players”, Charniga, 2019)?

/ Zion Williamson (ZW) misses six games of his only season at Duke when he suffers mild right knee sprain slipping to the court after his shoe breaks;

/ ZW lasted a mere 9 minutes in the NBA summer league after injuring left knee;

/ ZW is removed from the rest of NBA summer league (july 6, 2019) by his new NBA team the New Orleans Pelicans (NOP) out of caution he will not be ready for the 2019 season;

/ ZW is removed from consideration to play for USA in Olympic qualifier world cup tournament in China by NOP for fear of injury;

/ ZW undergoes knee surgery to repair meniscus; unable to finish pre – season play; will miss 6 – 8 weeks of the 2019 NBA, i.e., without having played one minute in a regular season game; after signing contracts with NOP and shoe company worth tens of millions of dollars.   

Originally schedule to return to play in his first season in the NBA ZW’s return is still in doubt as of January 2, 2020. His status is, quote:

“Williamson, 19, said the Pelicans are also trying to teach him how to walk and run differently — working on the kinetic chain of his body.” (ESPN)

Athletes in dynamic sports need all muscles of the lower extremities to work together in a dynamic synergy.  An arbitrary ratio, between strength of hamstring and quadriceps muscles as is very common in American athletics; essentially measured with the machine depicted in figure 4; developed with simplistic exercises as depicted in figure 4; if anything, cause more harm than good.

In spite of, but more likely because of these attempts to establish a strength balance, a hamstring injury is a common plague in American sport. For instance, the NFL reported 74 hamstring and 180 knee injuries as of 09/02/2018; in the lead up to the beginning of the 2018 season. Yet all of these players have access to the trainers, strength coaches, therapists, doctors and so forth who believe in the efficacy of the hamstring to quad ratio to prevent injury.

Another issue not taken into account is the application of simplistic strength training exercises with machines with small range of motion in different postures atypical of the real world conditions on the court or field.

For instance, the limited research in this area indicates training the same muscles in postures standing versus sitting for instance will yield different results. The neural input to to the muscles is not the same with alterations in posture because the direction of the muscle forces are different.

Furthermore, it is common knowledge the nerves enervating the body’s muscles cross, such that, the right side of the brain controls the left side of the body and vice versa. This complexity in the preparation of athletes for dynamic sports is lost on coaches who train athletes sitting, or lying in machines or other devices isolating muscles while all but eliminating body’s complex sensory systems (muscle, joint, tendon, vestibular, and so forth).

Is it any wonder someone trained with machines and partial range of motion weight exercises would experience problems reaching for a dropped ball or otherwise slipping on a court of athletic field?    


/ Charniga, A., “Of flat tires and brittle basketball players”, www.sportivnypress.com

/ Charniga, A., “Equilibrium in weightlifting”, www.sportivnypress.com, 2019

/ Kaminski, T., et al, “National Athletic Trainers Association Position Statement: Conservative Management and Prevention of Ankle Sprains in Athletes”, J. of Athletic Training, 48(4):528-545:2013

/ Wilson, R.P., Griffiths, I., Mills, M., Carbone, C., Wilson, J., Scantlebury, D., “Mass enhances speed but diminishes turn capacity in terrestrial pursuit predators”, eLife. 2015; 4:e06487, PMCID: PMC4542338

/ Wilson, G., Murphy, A., Walshe, A., “The specificity of strength training: the effect of posture”, Eur J Appl Physiol (1996) 73:346 – 352

/ Ankle breakers: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ql5fFhn98C0;

/ https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/Tommy%20John%20surgery

/ https://www.si.com/nba/2019/07/23/who-left-usa-basketballs-squad-fiba-world-cup

/ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yeQtikZzeVI


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.