As you can imagine, it’s not easy having to make treatment decisions for athletes. Especially when it could affect the team’s entire season and especially when it’s NBA superstar Michael Jordan.
May 25, 1998. The Eastern Conference Finals in Conseco Fieldhouse, Indianapolis, Indiana.
In this series Michael “Air” Jordan and the Chicago Bulls were up two games to one on the Indiana Pacers, and I was sitting on the bench with the players feeling like the king of the hill. Then with five minutes to go in the first period, with Indiana leading Chicago 14 to 12, Michael Jordan and Pacers center Rik Smits went up for a rebound. On the way down Smits poked Michael near his right eye, opening a nasty cut on his eyelid. Blood was pouring down his cheek.*
As we walked back to the locker room, I could feel all 16,560 pairs of eyes on me. This wasn’t just about a single game — the entire season was potentially at stake.
Which Decision to Make?
I had two options: stitches or Steri-Strips. Stitches meant injecting a local anesthetic and Michael’s eye would be closed, so he wouldn’t be able to return to the game. Steri-Strips, or thin strips of tape, might not hold and the bleeding could recur.
I recommended the strips of tape. The team ophthalmologist agreed.
I barely breathed for the rest of the game, but the strips held. The Bulls lost that night, but went on to beat the Indiana Pacers in game seven, and ultimately won their sixth NBA championship.
Always, The Best Decision For My Patient
As the Bulls’ team physician, I often had to forget about outside pressure and make the best decision for the athlete, my patient, sitting in front of me. Despite doing everything right, the outcome might not have turned out well.
I felt humble and fortunate indeed.
*Excerpt from my book, The Ball’s in Your Court: A Doctor Shares Life Lessons from Michael Jordan, Phil Jackson, Abraham Maslow and other Inspiring Teachers.
Pick up your own copy on Amazon.