Is Metta World Peace's Incredible Return from Injury a Medical Miracle?

Will CarrollSports Injuries Lead WriterApril 9, 2013

March 17, 2013; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Lakers small forward Metta World Peace (15) reacts to a foul called against  him during the second half at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports
Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Metta World Peace has long been thought of as a bit of a freak. We just haven't thought of him as a medical freak. With the potential for a comeback from knee surgery just 12 days after the procedure, questions are flying about how Peace did this and whether he should come back to the Los Angels Lakers so quickly.

UPDATE: Wednesday, Apr. 10 at 8:50 a.m. ET by Will Carroll

The Lakers got solid production from Peace in his fifteen minutes of playing time. Peace showed no limp, though he didn't appear to have the quick bounce needed for optimum rebounding. He was not hesitating to use the knee for stopping or starting, a big indicator of health. 

The Lakers sure seemed happy with what they got from Peace against the Hornets:


#ProudToBeAFanOf @mettaworldpeace. Great to have you back MWP. #GoLakers

Los Angeles Lakers (@Lakers) April 10, 2013


I spoke with Dr. Gregory Tchejeyan, one of the top knee doctors in the country. Dr. Tchejeyan formerly worked with the New York Knicks and has a great understanding of basketball's demands on the knee. I asked him how Peace was able to return in such a short amount of time. "It's certainly possible," he told me, "though it's certainly at the low end."

Asked about Peace's condition and how he said he had no swelling, Dr. Tchejeyan said that Peace is likely had no other damage than the meniscus, allowing the muscles to recover quickly. As for the lack of swelling, "it was probably just minor or perhaps there was something given to reduce swelling, like a cortisone injection. There is always some swelling. Rememeber, [Peace] is not a doctor."

There is an increased risk for damage inside the knee. Dr. Tchejeyan advised to watch for Peace's gait (limp) and quick reflex control. Both appeared to be near-normal in his first game action.

---End Update--- 

As I stated when Peace had his surgery, this kind of return was possible but not probable. At that, I was stating that a return in four weeks was the best-case scenario, so returning at not even missing two full weeks raises many medical questions.

Even Kobe Bryant has some questions—or maybe an answer:

Kobe said he'd call MWP "Logan" for his Wolverine-like self healing. Said taking care of his body generally (nutrition/fitness) is key.

— Mike Trudell (@LakersReporter) April 8, 2013


Peace has stated that he's ready due to no delay in his rehabilitation because of a lack of swelling. This is a very unusual response to any sort of surgery. Even with modern portaling techniques that allow smaller and smaller tools to enter into the joint space, there is a natural response. Peace told Phil Collin that he was on his feet hours after the surgery, which actually isn't that unusual in a strong, athletic patient.

Peace will need be put through physical tests by his physical therapists and the Lakers medical staff. Before they let him back on the floor, he will need to pass these tests and convince the coaching staff that he can handle the play.

There is also a bit of an advantage in that there is about a week left in the schedule, meaning that any delayed response will happen in the offseason, when Peace and the rest of the Lakers can have plenty of time to heal up. At only a half game back of the No. 8 seed in the West, Peace's return could actually make it harder for him to heal up!

This isn't an unheard of timeline. Back in 1984, when arthroscopic procedures were still new, American gymnast Mary Lou Retton had a meniscal procedure on her knee just three weeks before the opening of the Los Angeles Olympics. She was said to be back on the bars the next day. Retton, of course, put up 10s on the scoreboard and captured the American zeitgeist, all while showing no signs of her knee surgery. (Was there a cost for Retton? Yes, there was.) 

With any quick recovery or unusual feat, out come the villagers with their pitchforks crying that it must be PEDs that have wrought such black magic. They ignore the fact that there is little to no evidence that HGH has any effect on healing, let alone in the short term. While the NBA's drug-testing policy does lack in comparison to Olympic or MLB testing, there's simply no substance aside from painkillers that would contribute to this kind of return.

It's very unlikely that Peace is playing through pain here, helped along by the kind of painkillers we normally see in the NFL. It would be a very short-sighted fix, due to the increased damage that Peace could do to his still healing knees as they adjust to their new structure. It also doesn't match up with how the Lakers have managed Kobe Bryant's knees throughout the last two seasons.

With Metta World Peace adding his name to the quick-return column alongside Adrian Peterson, he can only hope that his return is as successful on the court. The wear and tear that led to the surgery for the torn meniscus won't get better after surgery since the meniscus was removed. If it's successful, a lot more people will be asking Peace what is in the diet he credits for his recovery. 

This return, if successful, may not be a medical miracle, but it is certainly unusual. That fits right in with everything we know about Metta World Peace and proves once again that the difference between the playoffs and the lottery can often be the smallest, most unexpected things.