CHICAGO - The meniscus, according to WebMD, "is a piece of cartilage in the knee that cushions and stabilizes the joint, protects the bones from wear and tear."
If an athlete tears a meniscus, a painful and debilitating injury, it is highly recommended that impact activities such as running and jumping immediately cease in order to prevent further damage.
Just don't tell that to Raymond Almazan.
He may be a Meralco Bolt, but when you claw the depths of his soul, you'll unmask a Ginebra never-say-die spirit.
After tearing the meniscus on his left knee in Game Three of the 2019 Governor's Cup Finals last Sunday, Almazan did not just play in Game Four, he went out there - Rambo-style, impervious to pain - and collected 12 points and nine rebounds.
He is listed at 6-foot-8 and 194 pounds. But there's no way to measure his studness.
While speaking to Reuben Terrado of SPIN.ph in a recent interview, Almazan described the discomfort along the lines of a slow death by getting pricked by a thousand needles.
To better comprehend how Raymond is able to somehow soldier through considerable suffering, I spoke to a current medical director of an NBA team.
"Depending on the severity of the tear, a player can play with some tears in the meniscus," he said, but he also cautioned that "the tear may get worse if you don't operate and its possible you could have further injury because of weakness/lost motion but those are usually instable tears or tears that have flipped up. If the tear is intrasubstance or fairly stable, you can play."
As for the pain, my source said its a matter of tolerance, something Almazan apparently has plenty of.
But in the NBA, Celebrex or Indocin is typically administered for swelling and Toradol for pain and inflammation.
Obviously, only Almazan, his doctors, and team officials know the extent of this meniscal tear, but if I were in Almazan's shoes I'd put a lid on playing for now, at least until that loose cartilage is repaired or removed.
I get it. Almazan loves to play, especially given what's on the line, and he should be lauded for that.
VOICE OF REASON. But here's the thing with elite athletes. When they reach a stop light in the intersection of caution and discretion, their judgment is often impaired by bravado, the rush of excitement, and the roar of the crowd,
Like a savagely beaten boxer who insists that the fight must go on despite the licking he's taking, athletes can be a danger to themselves. Which is precisely why intervention or interference must come from a voice they trust and listen to.
In fairness to those who have his ear, Almazan admitted to SPIN.ph that the decision to play injured was his alone.
When Derrick Rose sustained a multitude of injuries early in his career, he took his time and resisted the temptation to rush back and incur more harm.
"It was difficult, man," Derrick told me last October in Detroit while talking about how difficult it was to not answer the bell amid the heavy expectations that followed him as a former MVP.
But that restraint was exactly the reason why D-Rose is still in the NBA, playing exceedingly well at age 31 and still pulling $7.5 million a year in salaries on top of his endorsement deals.
In contrast, Isaiah Thomas played through a torn hip labrum during the 2017 NBA playoffs. He was never the same again. Not only did he not get his potential $100 million deal with the Celtics, he was traded and is now playing with the Washington Wizards on a one-year $2.3 million contract.
Thomas insists he has "no regrets." But given what he has lost, the hard fall after the fast rise, I'd like to believe that when he is alone with his thoughts on some nights he probably wished he could fold back the hands of time and retrace those ill-fated steps.
Almazan insists he's not a martyr. Just a dude eager to play in the Finals because another trip there is never promised.
But if, God forbid, something worse happens to his left knee, he will be crucified in the cruel cross of public opinion. I told you, those idiots on social media, whose only skill is taking a good conversation to the dumbest place, will predictably rail.
Almazan's allegiances to his teammates and to Meralco is admirable. Still, I wish he'd prioritize self-preservation. He's only 30, in his prime. He should protect his earning potential, the livelihood he needs to take care of his family.
In the end, however, it's his knees.
His sporting life to live.