On January 19th, 2015 the Portland Trail Blazers' season took a turn for the worse. Incredibly worse. Star forward LaMarcus Aldridge left the a game versus the Sacramento Kings after injuring his thumb trying to strip the ball from Kings center DeMarcus Cousins. Aldridge would spend the evening with his thumb in a cast, only to receive a diagnosis of ligament damage. As the implications sunk in, Aldridge missed Portland's next two games versus the Phoenix Suns and Boston Celtics. Without Aldridge's 20 points and 10 rebounds, the Blazers lost both, adding roughly 20% to the team's loss total in less than 48 hours. "Dark and solemn" didn't begin to describe the outlook for Portland's up-until-then excellent season as the Blazers contemplated life without LaMarcus.
Then, on the morning of January 24, light dawned. The team announced that LaMarcus Aldridge would delay surgery on a torn medial collateral ligament in his left thumb and play that very evening against the Washington Wizards.
This was an incredible reversal. Aldridge was expected to miss 6-8 weeks following corrective surgery. As the revelation spread, a mix of surprise, euphoria, awe, and concern swept through Blazer nation. Was this smart? Could he maintain his high level of play without a working thumb?
One thing was clear. LaMarcus' decision was the strongest kind of statement about his belief in the team and its ability to do something special this year. The chest of every Blazer fan swelled with pride and gratitude as Aldridge took the floor once more. He displayed heroism, fully living up to his titles as captain and best player on the squad.
Aldridge's production was equally special that night. He racked up 26 points, 9 rebounds, 3 assists, and 2 steals while leading the team to a recuperative win that halted a mini-skid. The glow surrounding that moment is hard to describe. For a moment everything was good. A simple regular-season win became redemption of the highest order.
It's still difficult to say what the legacy of Aldridge's decision will be. He won admirers around the league for his grit and team-first attitude. He actually improved his production following the injury, scoring 23.6 PPG on 47% shooting along with 10.3 rebounds. Undoubtedly the Blazers would not have won as many games had Aldridge opted for surgery in-season; possibly they may have even missed the playoffs. They went 20-18 after his decision as it was, losing control of home court advantage in the process.
Of course there was no way to foretell the continued injury misfortune of the team, which rendered Aldridge's decision more gallant gesture than season-saving measure. The playoffs—the ultimate reason he put up with the pain all year—did not go well. The Blazers fell 1-4 as Aldridge shot 33% from the field. According to John Canzano, his hand bothered him so badly in Game 5 that he missed a point blank shot. Although he had no regrets about putting off surgery, he did say his hand was ‘a 5, 6’ out of 10 going into that final game.
Repercussions will reverberate into the offseason. Aldridge will still need surgery. His return date and condition remain unknown, as does his future with the Trail Blazers. Though we can't tell the future, we do know that January 24th, 2015 showed the best side of the best Blazer of this era, demonstrating LaMarcus Aldridge's professionalism and the ideals that fans everywhere hope to see in their players.