Performance After Anterior Cruciate Ligament Reconstruction in National Basketball Association Players

Orthop J Sports Med. 2021 Feb 26;9(2):2325967120981649. doi: 10.1177/2325967120981649. eCollection 2021 Feb.


Background: Anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injury in National Basketball Association (NBA) players can have a significant impact on player longevity and performance. Current literature reports a high rate of return to play, but there are limited data on performance after ACL reconstruction (ACLR).

Purpose/hypothesis: To determine return to play and player performance in the first and second seasons after ACLR in NBA players. We hypothesized that players would return at a high rate. However, we also hypothesized that performance in the first season after ACLR would be worse as compared with the preinjury performance, with a return to baseline by postoperative year 2.

Study design: Case series; Level of evidence, 4.

Methods: An online database of NBA athlete injuries between 2010 and 2019 was queried using the term ACL reconstruction. For the included players, the following data were recorded: name; age at injury; position; height, weight, and body mass index; handedness; NBA experience; dates of injury, surgery, and return; knee affected; and postoperative seasons played. Regular season statistics for 1 preinjury season and 2 postoperative seasons were compiled and included games started and played, minutes played, and player efficiency rating. Kaplan-Meier survivorship plots were computed for athlete return-to-play and retirement endpoints.

Results: A total of 26 athletes underwent ACLR; of these, 84% (95% CI, 63.9%-95.5%) returned to play at a mean 372.5 days (95% CI, 323.5-421.5 days) after surgery. Career length after injury was a mean of 3.36 seasons (95% CI, 2.27-4.45 seasons). Factors that contributed to an increased probability of return to play included younger age at injury (odds ratio, 0.71 [95% CI, 0.47-0.92]; P = .0337) and fewer years of experience in the NBA before injury (odds ratio, 0.70 [95% CI, 0.45-0.93]; P = .0335). Postoperatively, athletes played a significantly lower percentage of total games in the first season (48.4%; P = .0004) and second season (62.1%; P = .0067) as compared with the preinjury season (78.5%). Player efficiency rating in the first season was 19.3% less than that in the preinjury season (P = .0056). Performance in the second postoperative season was not significantly different versus preinjury.

Conclusion: NBA players have a high rate of RTP after ACLR. However, it may take longer than a single season for elite NBA athletes to return to their full preinjury performance. Younger players and those with less NBA experience returned at higher rates.

Keywords: ACL; ACLR; NBA; performance; player efficiency rating; return to play.