It was the original artificial playing surface and was installed in the Houston Astrodome in the late 1960s.
My poor old grandpa had a hissy fit when the dome was built, saying “You don’t play baseball in a house!” So when the fake grass came on the scene, he nearly blew a gasket.
His consternation was soon justified as teams began to compete on the turf. The overall percentage of ankle and knee injuries increased dramatically in the next few years, especially in football. The conventional cleats would snag on the rug and stop the foot on a dime. The rest of the athlete would continue in motion due to gravity and momentum.
Something had to give. In most cases, it was the ligaments and tendons.
Innovative designers came up with special turf shoes with less traction and more ‘give’. Injuries declined. In the years leading up to the present, both shoes and turf have evolved together—and today, we’re almost back to real grass and real cleats again. (Stay with me – this is going somewhere.)
Lets jump over to the basketball court now.
Is it just me, or has the overall percentage of ankle and knee injuries steadily increased in the NBA since the days of Cousy and West?
It seems to me that players are going down right and left with season-ending leg injuries.
Is it possible that in the quest to design the perfect shoe, we now have a product that is too good?
Let me explain: today’s basketball shoes are designed for comfort, lightness and traction. It’s that last feature I want to hone in on. These shoes are super ‘sticky’.
The design intent of course was to help the athlete cut, drive, and stop on a dime. It’s my contention that modern shoes are too sticky, with almost no give.
The human foot, with its muscle, connective tissue and skin, was designed with the perfect amount of natural give. But confine that foot in a tightly-laced, form-fitted shoe with a sticky sole, add months of cutting, driving, stopping, and you’re looking at stressed or weakened joints and a tragic injury waiting to happen.
What I’m getting at is this: “Hey, Nike and Adidas. Is there a way to lighten up on the “stick’em” a little bit? Yeah, go ahead and mold the shoe to the athlete’s foot and add a little more cushion. Go to knee-highs if you want. Just realize it’s OK to stop on a dollar instead of a dime.”
I’m not an expert. Just an old guy who used to play in Converse All-Stars. By today’s standards those shoes wouldn’t hold a candle to the comfortable, cushy, air-lights of this age.
But by golly, those shoes would let you slide. Just enough to keep your knees under you—and to come back to play another year.
-first published at Bleacher Report, August, 2008