Cleveland Cavaliers forward Kevin Love can't pop his shoulder in and out at will. Nor would he ever want to. The three-time NBA All Star suffered a dislocated shoulder in the playoffs last spring and underwent surgery and rehab to get back on the court, but it's unlikely he'll ever use it as a party trick like Riggs did in the Lethal Weapon movies.
"Let's just say it makes for a good movie visual," says David Reavy, a Chicago-based physical therapist and Men's Journal columnist. "You, my friend, don't want to pop it back out on purpose."
Suffering a shoulder dislocation means literally having your arm ripped out of its socket. Painful stuff for Love, who spent six months getting his body back to full strength after Celtics forward Kelly Olynyk yanked his arm out of place while fighting for a rebound in last year's first round.
The Cavs made it to the NBA Finals without their star forward, but his injury was seen as a real hit to their championship hopes. While LeBron and company faced-off against the Warriors, Love went under the knife to repair the injury. "It was grueling," Love says, "but necessary to make sure I was ready for training camp."
Without that surgery, the chances of the 27-year-old Love re-injuring the shoulder would be very high, between 40 and 79 percent, according to Reavy.
"The pain happens in the soft tissue surrounding the joint," Reavy explains. "Since the shoulder is a ball and socket joint, it's most stable when centered in the socket. If the shoulder blade is not in its proper position, then the joint will not be centered properly."
Afterwards, Love headed for the Utah mountains for three weeks of rehab.
"Park City is my favorite place in the U.S. Being there allows you to focus on your training," says Love, who promotes chocolate milk as his go-to recovery drink. "But it's a lot of fun because it's always something different. They say to train high, live low, but when I was there I was training high, living high, so when you come back down to sea level you feel like Superman. It's definitely helped me advance to feeling great now."
Love says the worst part of the rehab was the repetition and the monotony of the workouts. But Park City allowed him to also get his head right. When he wasn't working out, he was able to paddle board, fish, and hike.
"I feel great," Love says. "There wasn't a point when I didn't think I'd get back, just a lot of hard work to get back there. Wouldn't say I feel like my old self, but getting better every day."
In July, Love signed a monster five-year, $110 million extension with the Cavs, so there was no fear that the injury could threaten his basketball future. He returned to the court in October, and through the first five games of the season, Love was averaging 19.4 points and 9.1 rebounds per match, and had LeBron James calling him the "focal point" of the offense.
"As an athlete you're concerned about recovery to get through the grind of the season," he says. "When I started training, I couldn't lift my hand, so to be at this point now where I'm back on the court… it's incredible."