Yes. I’ve watched the video.
And once was enough. I didn’t want to see it again after that. I can play it back in my mind, and the memory is as vivid as any video footage out there.
It was Easter Sunday in 2013. The Elite Eight. We were a No. 1 seed and we had a four-point lead over Duke, a No. 2 seed. A Final Four berth was on the line. There were just under seven minutes left in the first half. Duke was bringing the ball down the court, and somehow we got out of position on a defensive rotation and we left Tyler Thornton wide open for a three on the wing. I was at the top of the key — closest to the shooter — and Chane Behanan gave me a nudge to get out and contest the shot.
I remember bursting up to block the shot, and while I was in the air, turning my head back to watch the ball as it made its way to the basket. I wasn’t looking at where I was going to land.
I remember my feet hitting the ground.
I remember my body hitting the floor.
I remember that the first thing I saw was Coach Pitino looking down at me as I was lying on the sideline.
He looked like he’d seen a ghost.
Then I looked down and saw my shinbone sticking out of my right leg.
And I remember thinking, Oh shit …
I didn’t feel any pain. I don’t know if I was in shock or what. But honestly, I didn’t feel anything. Everybody else was hysterical. My teammates were crying. People were losing their minds. I had Luke Hancock kneeling over me saying, “Just relax … everything’s gonna be O.K.”
Once I was able to process what had happened, I honestly didn’t think about myself. My only thought was, I hope we win this game. I wanted us to win because we had worked so hard to get to that point. But I also wanted us to win so it wouldn’t feel like I had gotten injured for nothing.
So that was my message to the guys as the paramedics wheeled me off the court to the ambulance.
“Don’t worry about me,” I kept saying.
“Just win this damn game.”
After surgery that night, I was knocked out. I didn’t wake up until the middle of the night or the early morning. When I woke in the hospital bed, everything was foggy. I don’t remember anybody else being in the room — I was still out of it.
All I remember is opening my eyes and looking over at the table next to my bed and seeing the Final Four trophy.
It felt like a dream, but I knew I wasn’t dreaming.
Then I just smiled and rolled over and went back to sleep.
I could easily have felt sorry for myself that I wasn’t going to get to play in the Final Four, which was in my hometown of Atlanta that year. But I didn’t have a chance to dwell on it because I was getting so much support. The Duke game was on national TV, so millions of people had seen my injury, and I was getting hit up by everybody, from Lil Wayne to LeBron James, wishing me well.
I was courtside for the Final Four win against Wichita State and again when we beat Michigan to win the national championship. I obviously couldn’t walk, so when the final buzzer went off, my teammates came over to me on the sideline, one by one, with the same message.
“We did it, dawg.”
I would have been perfectly happy sitting in my seat, with my surgically-repaired leg resting on a seat in front of me, watching the rest of the guys climb the ladder and cut the net down.
But then Coach Pitino came over to me.
“Hey, Kevin. They’re gonna lower the rim so you can cut the net down too.”
I knew that that national championship win belonged to me as much is it did to any of the other guys. But being able to cut down the net just made it that much sweeter.
It was the best moment of my life.
It was such a crazy couple of weeks. I was all over TV, getting interviewed and meeting celebrities. It was surreal. After the national championship, the interviews and appearances kept up for a few days, but they eventually died down.
On campus, I was a celebrity in my own right. That didn’t die down. I was getting mobbed by people at the mall and everywhere else. And all anybody wanted to talk about was my leg.
It’s like I wasn’t Kevin Ware, the basketball player, anymore.
I was Kevin Ware, the guy who broke his leg.
After a while, it really started to bother me — all the attention, people wanting to talk to me everywhere I went. I had to start sneaking around campus, taking back ways to classes or the gym. I didn’t realize the impact that my injury had had on other people or on my status on campus. I spent most of my time in my room watching Netflix, avoiding all the fuss.
But I didn’t truly realize what a lasting impact my injury had had on other people until I finally got back on the court.
Seven months after the injury that made me famous, I returned to the court for Louisville. But something was different. Practices were different. Guys started playing soft against me, like they were afraid they were gonna hurt me.
Like Russ Smith, who was one of the guys who had gotten really emotional when I broke my leg. He’s like a big brother to me. I spent my summer before my sophomore year going up against him every day in practice, and he made me work. I couldn’t take one play off. He made me a lot better and a lot tougher that summer.
But now, I couldn’t even get him to foul me.
Even Coach Pitino told me he didn’t want me practicing too much. When I was rehabbing and close to coming back, he said that if we had practice the day after a game, I would play in the game, but not practice. Or if we had back-to-back practices, I wouldn’t participate in both.
“We want that leg to rest,” he’d say.
I get it. What happened to me was crazy — and gruesome — and they all saw it. And they couldn’t unsee it. So when they looked at my leg — or I guess when they looked at me — that’s what they saw. My injury. They didn’t want to see something like that again, and they didn’t want me to go through it again either.
But I hadn’t worked my ass off all summer in rehab to get back just to be treated like damaged goods.
A few weeks into the regular season, I got kicked in my surgically-repaired leg. The kick damaged some tissue around the healed fracture and I had to miss some time. I think that freaked the coaches and the trainers out a little bit, because when it came time for me to return, they told me they thought it would be best if I redshirted.
I know they were just trying to protect me. I don’t blame them — I was coming off a minor injury to the same leg. But it was frustrating. All I wanted to do was play basketball and contribute to my team, and I felt like I wasn’t able to do that. Not because I couldn’t, but because they wouldn’t let me.
It was clear that they weren’t going to play me and that they didn’t trust my leg. So I decided to take their advice and take a medical redshirt.
Then, I decided to transfer.
Leaving Louisville was one of the toughest things I’ve ever done. I mean, college is supposed to be a place where you grow up and find yourself and learn who you are and what you’re made of. I did that at Louisville. I made great friends on and off the basketball court. I won a national championship. I became a celebrity, a better person and a better student. I’ll always cherish my time at Louisville and the people I met there.
But you only get so many years of NCAA eligibility. And I wanted to go someplace where they were going to let me play. Someplace where I could be Kevin Ware, the basketball player, again. Not Kevin Ware, the guy who broke his leg.
So I decided to go home.
I decided to go to Georgia State.
Going home to the Atlanta area, I didn’t have a lot of choices. Georgia Tech wasn’t an option because Louisville had just moved to the ACC, and I’d have had to sit out a year if I transferred within the conference. Georgia was an option, but it was kind of far out there in Athens, and I wanted to be closer to my mom. I even entertained the idea of going to Auburn because of coach Bruce Pearl. In high school, I signed my original letter of intent to go to Tennessee and play for Coach Pearl, but after he got fired I withdrew it and went to Louisville.
But Coach Pearl also had sanctions that followed him to Auburn, and I wanted to play at a school where I would have a chance to get back to the NCAA tournament.
That’s why I chose Georgia State. It had everything I needed and wanted.
It’s a smaller school, but guys like Ryan Harrow and R.J. Hunter were getting a lot of national attention, and Georgia State had a good chance of getting an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament out of the Sun Belt Conference. They also needed another guard, and that’s all I really needed to hear to know that it was the right place.
It was a fresh start for me. The moment I stepped on campus, I felt at home. I was back in Atlanta. I was back on the basketball court. And I was in a place where people didn’t look at me and see my leg injury. Nobody was tiptoeing around me on the court. I could finally be myself again.
I was Kevin Ware, the basketball player.
Looking back at all the things I was able to do at Georgia State, it’s kind of crazy. I arrived in 2014 and played right away. I also meshed with my teammates right away, and R.J. Hunter became like another brother to me, just like Russ Smith had been back at Louisville. We won the Sun Belt Conference that season and we went to the NCAA tournament — my first time back in the tournament since I broke my leg.
This time, instead of being a No. 1 seed looking to avoid an upset, I was playing for a No. 14 seed looking to pull an upset in the first round.
And I was on the court for R.J.’s game-winning shot against third-seeded Baylor.
Not a lot of guys can say they’ve been a part of a national championship team. But there are even fewer guys who can say they’ve also been on the winning side of a 14–3 upset. That win over Baylor was something really special for me to be a part of, especially after all the uncertainty surrounding my future at Louisville.
We didn’t make it back to the tournament in my senior season, but I started all 30 games, averaged more than 35 minutes and almost 12 points. Aside from not making the tournament, I felt like I had a great year.
But all great things gotta come to an end.
Yes. I’ve watched the video.
You’ve probably watched it a few times. If you haven’t, you probably will now.
Once was enough for me.
Even though we won that national championship, my career at Louisville didn’t end the way I wanted it to. But I got nothing but love for Coach Pitino, all the guys I played with and all the people I met during my time there. I miss you guys. I miss playing in front of that huge, crazy crowd we had at the Yum! Center. I miss the campus.
I miss being a Cardinal.
I want to thank everyone in the basketball program at Louisville for everything you’ve done for me, and for all the love, both before and after my injury. I’ll always appreciate you.
And thank you to Georgia State as well. Thank you for welcoming me with open arms, for accepting me for who I am and for allowing me to come home. I’ll be forever grateful to Coach Hunter and all the people I met in my time there.
I was Kevin Ware, the basketball player. Then I was Kevin Ware, the guy who broke his leg. Now I’m working hard to be Kevin Ware, the professional basketball player. And whether that happens in the NBA or somewhere internationally, I’ll always be proud that I gave everything I had to Louisville, and I gave everything I had to Georgia State.
Now, I’m ready to give everything I have to my next team — wherever that may be. That’s the next step for me as I try to give people something else to remember me for besides my injury.
Even though it’ll always be just a click away.