At this point in the season, virtually everyone who plays more than 20 minutes per game for an NBA team has an injury of some kind, if not several. It's tough to play 82 games of physical ball without having some kind of problem, and training staffs have to work around the clock to make sure these players are in the best physical shape possible.
For the most part, though, these are injuries that can be played through with discomfort but not extreme pain. Then there's the case of Sixers forward Elton Brand(notes), who has been playing for roughly a month with a much more serious injury. From Jonathan Abrams of The New York Times:
Elton Brand, who is experiencing a resurgent season with the surprising Philadelphia 76ers, has played nearly a month with a fracture in his left hand.
The fracture was originally disclosed as an injury that would not prohibit Brand from playing, apparently out of concern that some opposing players might target the hand if they knew it was fractured. Brand has continued to play through the injury with the 76ers still vying for playoff positioning.
"It still bothers him," Rod Thorn, Philadelphia's president, said in a telephone call Monday night. "He's had trouble for the last month trying to catch balls. There's no complaints about it from him. He keeps playing. His confidence, his leadership, have been invaluable to our team."
The Sixers are currently sixth in the East standings after a great second half that's seen them go 23-12 since standing at 17-25 on Jan. 30, and Brand has been a big part of their success as a steady veteran presence inside. His play is even more impressive now that we know he's been playing through an injury that would have sidelined 90 percent of players around the league, but it's not as if he hadn't been praiseworthy before this news broke.
Brand has struggled with injuries for much of his three seasons, but he hasn't suddenly turned from a wimp into a tough SOB. For one thing, Brand's previous injuries were of the sort that are literally impossible to play through. Plus, while he's also had some minor injuries, there's very little point in risking career-long injury problems for a lottery-bound squad. Brand deserves credit for playing with a fractured hand, but it seems extremely likely that he would have missed the past month if the Sixers weren't headed towards the postseason.
Again, that doesn't mean he was somehow not acting like an honorable athlete in previous seasons for the Sixers. All it says is that toughness can often be as much a product of context as a person's character.