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As the calendar flips to 2020, Dominique Wilkins has some advice for Kevin Durant:
“Don’t listen to your critics.”
Wilkins set the standard for returning from a torn Achilles tendon, averaging 29.9 points in his first season back (1992-93) at age 32. It took the Hall of Famer nine months to recover.
Durant, 31, is nearly seven months removed from his Achilles injury on June 10, 2019. He is not expected to play for the Brooklyn Nets this season, with both player and team erring on the side of caution.
Durant is a two-time NBA Finals MVP, regular-season MVP, four-time scoring champ and 10-time All-Star. Returning to his former level won’t be easy, but Wilkins believes.
“Don’t listen to people telling you what you can or can’t do,” Wilkins told Yahoo Sports. “Because no one knows your heart better than you do.’
“I heard all those negative things. And I used it as fuel to prove [my critics] wrong. So that’s what he has to do. Because you’re going to have your doubters. You’re going to have your naysayers. You’re going to have all these people that have an opinion of what you’re going to be like when you come back.
“They’re going to be quick to say, ‘Well, the guy can shoot the ball and he’s talented, but what about the explosion?’ You get people saying stuff like that. So again, it comes down to, ‘How do you prove people wrong?’ You go out there, believe in yourself and work hard to get back to that star level. And I think everything else will take care of itself.
“One thing in his favor is that he loves to play. And anybody that loves the game is going to do whatever’s necessary to get back to that star level.”
Wilkins said the key to his strong return from the injury was rehabbing twice a day for nine months.
“The hardest part was in the beginning, just accepting the fact that I was hurt,” Wilkins said. “But once I got over that it was now just about, ‘What am I gonna do to get back? How can I be the player I once was? What do I need to do?’ And I started doing a lot of water therapy, working with very, very light weights.
“It took me believing in myself. And all those articles with people saying I wouldn’t be back, I wouldn’t be the same. I put them on the mirror of my workout room. I had to look at them everyday. And so that was my fuel.”
Wilkins said he was able to clear the mental hurdle about his Achilles during training camp.
“I got hit and I hit the ground really hard. And the first thing I did was I grabbed my Achilles,” Wilkins said. “And I’m like, ‘I’m not in any pain.’ And I said, ‘If this thing is going to go again, it’s going to be on my terms. I’m going to go all out.’ I had to get over the doubts, the fear.”
Wilkins scored 30 points in his first regular-season game back on Nov. 6, 1992, against the New York Knicks, and it was the start of another All-Star campaign after initially suffering the injury on Jan. 28, 1992.
Some players aren’t the same after tearing their Achilles. Wilkins was.
“It was very satisfying,” Wilkins said. “I remember thinking to myself, ‘I’m back.’”
Asked if he’d spoken with Durant about the injury, Wilkins said, “We’ve talked a little bit. Not much. But I’m always willing to give any type of insight or advice on that injury. It’s a time-consuming injury, but if you put in the work you can get back from it.”
Wilkins believes Durant can be as impactful post-injury as he was before.
“I wish him nothing but the best,” Wilkins said. “And if anybody can come back from this injury, it’s him.”
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