The most gruesome injuries in NBA history

Profile Picture: Jason Ence

Jason Ence

February 28th, 2020

There have been some terrible injuries in the NBA. Some have derailed careers, while others have ended seasons. They often leave lasting, cringe-worth images for both fans and players.

Let's break rank the five worst injuries in the history of the NBA.

Some of the videos and images you are about to see may be disturbing. Viewer discretion is advised.

5. Jorge Garbajosa breaks his leg (March 26, 2007)

Garbajosa was a promising player out of Europe. He was signed by the Toronto Raptors to a three year, $12 million contract in the summer of 2006. He started his career strong, won a Rookie of the Month award in December, and made the NBA All-Rookie first team after he averaged 8.5 points and 4.9 rebounds per game.

Late in a game against the Boston Celtics, however, Garbajosa attempted to block a dunk by Al Jefferson and landed awkwardly on his left foot. Garbajosa suffered a broken fibula, dislocated ankle, and tore multiple ligaments. He began loudly screaming, as teammate Jose Calderon held his head. It was so bad that Jefferson turned away in disgust.

Garbajosa’s injury all but ended his NBA career. He played only seven games the next season, before a second surgery on his leg. The Raptors bought out his contract, and he returned to Europe, where he played three more years.

4. Kermit Washington punches Rudy Tomjanovich (Dec. 9, 1977)

The punch heard around the NBA “sounded like a melon had been dropped on the floor,” according to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and the press heard the punch in the upper level. Rudy Tomjanovich ran in to break up a scuffle between his Houston Rockets teammate, Kevin Kunnert, and the Los Angeles Lakers’ Kermit Washington.

Not knowing his intentions, Washington threw his right fist into Tomjanovich’s face without warning, which sent Tomjanovich to the ground, unconscious, in a pool of blood.

The punch literally broke Tomjanovich’s face. Parts of his facial bone broke free from his skull. He also suffered a broken jaw, broken nose, and a concussion, and had fluid leaking from his damaged spine, which he said he could taste in his mouth.

Tomjanovich’s surgery was compared to putting an egg back together with tape, and he missed the remainder of the season. The incident led to multiple rule changes, including the addition of a third referee and automatic suspensions for fights. Washington was suspended for 60 days, but his reputation and personal life both suffered horribly, although the men later became friends.

Tomjanovich was named an All-Star the following year and played another four years in the NBA.

3. Paul George breaks his leg (Aug. 1, 2014)

This injury did not take place in an NBA game, but involved NBA players and impacted the career of one of the league's best young stars. Paul George had just led the Indiana Pacers to the Eastern Conference Finals, earned a spot on the NBA’s All-Defensive first team, and headed into the offseason with a large contract extension about to go into effect.

During a scrimmage for the USA men’s basketball team, in training camp for the 2014 FIBA World Cup, George chased down James Harden on a layup attempt. His right foot collided with the bottom of the stanchion, turned underneath, and he broke both of the bones in his lower leg. The injury was obvious, as his foot and ankle turned in a sideways, 90-degree angle, which prompted horrified reactions from players on the bench.

The game was called off, George went into surgery within hours, and he had a pin inserted into the leg for stability. He made a full recovery, returned to the NBA only eight months and four days later, and led the Pacers back to the playoffs the next season.

2. Gordon Hayward breaks his leg (Oct. 17, 2017)

Hayward signed a four year, $128 million deal with the Celtics in the 2017 offseason, but he only played six minutes of his first season in Boston, because he broke his leg in the season opener.

Hayward ran down the baseline and went up to catch a lob pass from Kyrie Irving for a dunk, but the play was broken up. When Hayward landed, his foot caught, his leg crumped underneath his body weight, snapped instantly below the knee, and turned his foot at a horrific angle.

Hayward screamed in pain as trainers rushed to his side. The break was bad enough that announcer Kevin Harlan told viewers within seconds that Hayward had broken his leg. Cameras under the basket cut to the injured Hayward, which made many folks at home upset to their stomachs. The reaction echoed that of the players on the floor, who turned away visibly disturbed.

Hayward endured multiple surgeries and returned to NBA action 364 days later. While his numbers were significantly lower during his first year back, he has rebounded to form this season and is playing at a high level again.

1. Shaun Livingston decimates his knee (Feb. 26, 2007)

This injury was so bad that the internet has tried to scrub its very existence from video record. You cannot find anything but grainy clips of Shaun Livingston destroying his knee, in an injury that nearly cost him his leg. Livingston was a budding, 22-year-old prospect for the Clippers, enjoying a breakout 2006-2007 season, where he was averaging 9.3 points and 5.1 assists per game.

During a game against the Charlotte Bobcats, he went up for a layup and missed. When he landed, his left knee was horribly injured, and his lower leg turned sideways underneath his body. He tore three of the four major ligaments in the knee and dislocated his patellar tendon. The only saving grace was that his femoral artery was not damaged, otherwise he might have had his leg amputated.

After multiple surgeries, it took him more than two months to walk again, and he didn't return to the NBA until the fall of 2008. He revitalized his career and won three NBA championships with the Warriors.