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(Photo: Louisville players fall to the floor as they feel their teammates pain.)
In the first half of the Duke Blue Devils vs Louisville Cardinal NCAA Men's Basketball Regional Finals, star Cardinal's guard Kevin Ware came down hard on his right leg as he jumped high to block a shot, landing awkwardly, and falling to the floor.
On impact, his right tibia and fibula instantly snapped, clearly visible in the video below (warning), breaking both bones and extending some six inches through the skin on his leg, according to Coach Pitino.
Easily the most gruesome injury I've ever seen on a basketball court.
All of the players on the court, on the benches, fans in the stands, millions of viewers watching live on televsion, and following the game on twiiter winced simultaneously. Some fell to the floor. People covered their eyes. Many began to cry. Within a millisecond of Kevin Ware's season-ending injury we all felt a version of his pain. The cavernous stadium went silent for what seemed like a week.
Twitter called it like this:
@YahooForde: Oh my god. Kevin Ware compound fracture. Oh no.
@lukewinn: Please never show that on television. Most awful thing I've ever seen live.
@Mengus22: I’ve never been in a building that went from that loud to this quiet so quickly. This is horrible.
@zschonbrun: Several Louisville players appeared to vomit on the bench
@GoodmanCBS: I have never seen anything like this before. Four Louisville players in the middle of the floor almost in tears after seeing Ware's leg.
@YahooForde: Horrible, horrible scene. Chane Behanan sobbing. Russ crying. This is awful.
@ESPNDanaOneil: Pitino called them over. Said he wants to talk to you.
@WillBrinson: Per @tracywolfson, Kevin Ware told his teammates "Don't worry about me. I'll be OK. Go win this thing"
@GoodmanCBS: This entire crowd is silent and on its feet while the stretcher is out waiting to take Kevin Ware off the court.
@ESPNDanaOneil: Entire place, Duke bench and fans, Krzyzewski all clapping on feet while Ware put on stretcher.
@lukewinn: Fans applauding for Kevin Ware as he's wheeled off on stretcher, with a towel over his legs. His shin bone was fully protruding.
Seeing a friend suffer such an injury pulled the Louisville team together. Love, empathy, and compassion filled the stadium as mirror neurons--responsible for feeling what another person feels--exploded like a wave across the the NCAA community.
We'll eventually hear Kevin Ware's version of the injury, but from experience I know that on impact his brain and body instantly coursed with the hormone epinephrine which elicits the classic fight or flight response, intense focus, and often masks or dulls the initial searing pain.
This helps explain Ware's clear message to his coach and teammates.
As the bone was sticking six inches out of his leg he looked up and said, "'Don't worry about me. I'll be OK. You guys go win this thing'. And he's yelling 'Win the game, win the game,'" according to a CBS reporter and Coach Pitino.
An intense, gruesome, and inspiring lesson in neurophysiology playing out from the floor of Indiana's largest basketball stadium.
When the close game resumed, that powerful combination of empathy and epinephrinetic focus, a veritable neuromotivational soup, took over and rocketed the Louisville team to the Final Four.
Never underestimate the power of the human brain on fire and in the flow.
Louisville beat Duke 85-63, and never looked back. They head to Atlanta to face the Wichita State Shockers on April 6th. I suggest some expert acute stress counseling for the team during the coming week. Remnant epinephrine can last a long while in the blood stream, contributing to jittery distraction rather than intense focus.
I wish the Louisville Cardinals the best of luck in the Final Four and the oxytocin heights of a National Championship.
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