Andrew Bynum's meditation proves instrumental in overcoming knee injury
Catch Lakers center Andrew Bynum throughout most of the day leading up to tip-off and you'll see him sitting on a chair meditating. He'll surely engage in these sessions with the team, as the practice extends from Lakers Coach Phil Jackson, whose famed "Zen master" persona partly comes from his belief in meditation. But Bynum's pre-game meditation also happens on his own time, with a session after his pre-game lunch and shortly before the opening tip so he can visualize what's in store for later that night.
Bynum's maintains that he follows this practice on his own terms, though he's quick to acknowledge that Jackson's influence helped spur his enthusiasm to meditate. This isn't just a case study on how Jackson's teachings reach even the youngest of players, including the 22-year-old Bynum. It's not just a case study on Bynum's growth maturity, which as recently as this year seemed mostly focused on how much bottom-line production he could get. It's also a case study on how Bynum has approached his injuries, his latest being the torn cartilage in his right knee that he hurt just before the Lakers' West semifinals match-up with Utah.
"It's all about how you look at it and how you think," Bynum said regarding the key to coping with his latest injury. And with meditation, Bynum has plenty of time to think. With the Lakers leading 2-1 against the Boston Celtics in the NBA Finals, Bynum has averaged a postseason best of 13.3 points on a 52% clip, a stat line that appears modest in nature but remains critical for the Lakers' success. That's because he entered the Finals as the team's biggest question mark, with Jackson openly admitting uncertainty on how many minutes Bynum could play against Boston and how effectively he could match up against the Celtics' front line, including Kendrick Perkins, Kevin Garnett and Rasheed Wallace.Bynum has assuaged those fears, averaging 32 minutes a game thus far, a large increase from the average of 18 minutes per contest to which Jackson limited him in the West finals against Phoenix. Though Bynum's knee locked up after he landed from a blocking a shot by Perkins in the third quarter of the Lakers' 91-84 Game 3 victory Tuesday, he returned in the fourth quarter and finished with nine points and 10 rebounds. after not participating in Wednesday's practice, Bynum said that his knee felt swollen after Game 3 but that he felt it would improve. Despite being listed as questionable, Bynum insists he will play Thursday in Game 4 and described his knee as "good."
"He's been able to overcome those odds almost all the way through these playoffs, ever since Oklahoma," Jackson said. "So we're really optimistic that he'll be able to find a way to do that."
Before this postseason began, there were many concerns about whether Bynum could overcome his left Achilles' tendon, which sidelined him for the final 13 games of the regular season. His injury history, including a swollen left kneecap in the 2007-08 season and a right knee injury last season, only fueled a perception that Bynum lacked the toughness, work ethic and proper attitude to meet the expectations of a promising young center.
He's disproved that notion, especially during this postseason, during which he's taken pride in sharpening on defensive rotations and grabbing for rebounds, knowing his knee might unpredictably swell up. Every three hours, he undergoes treatment for an hour and 30 minutes, procedures that include icing, wearing a compression boot that extends from his ankle to knee and undergoing interferential therapy. And he, of course, meditates, an overall approach that Lakers guard Kobe Bryant argues has helped Bynum gain more respect in the locker room.
"No question about it," Bryant said. "It's a tough injury to play through."
Bynum may not be in complete form yet. After all, it's unheard of for Bryant to spend 10 minutes, let alone a few moments, discussing his injury in detail, including his progress and setbacks, his procedure and his detailed history. When Bynum was asked what it's like for reporters and fans to pepper him with questions about his knee, he smiled and said, "I'm used to it now. I've been this way for about three years."
But Bynum's blunt honesty and Bryant's obsessive secrecy have much more to do with their personalities than whether one's approach is superior to the other's. The bottom line is this: The Lakers are pleasantly pleased with Bynum's ability to deal with his injured right knee, which will require surgery this offseason. And someone such as Pau Gasol, who's averaged 20.3 points in the Finals and disproved the unfair perception that he's still soft, feels grateful he has a teammate who can make his job easier, regardless of health. Bynum partly has his meditation routine to thank.
"I know this is the last hurrah and last mountain to climb," Bynum said. "I'm going real hard."
-- Mark Medina in Boston
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