On Sunday night, Joe Ingles lay on the court in Minnesota, immobilized. In the ensuing hours, his leg would be diagnostically pushed and pulled by doctors. He would be told of the overwhelming probability of his torn ACL, and that he should rest as much as humanly possible — and in particular, that he should avoid walking for the next little while.
On Monday morning, Ingles’ 5-year-old daughter Milla asked him to drive her to school.
“I was like, ‘There’s no way I can get her to school,’” Ingles said. “But it was also like, ‘I have to figure this out. Like, she wants me to take her and I’m not going to let my daughter down. So I somehow got my leg into the car and I hauled her to the front of the class and I got her into school.”
That, in a nutshell, wraps up Ingles’ approach to returning from his ACL injury. Many people think Ingles is unlikely to return to NBA play — and if he does, they’re skeptical of the quality of his return. They know that Ingles had already looked like he had lost an athletic step in this season, and they know that the history of 34-year-olds undergoing ACL surgery and returning to NBA is limited.
And yet, Ingles doesn’t much care: he thinks he can beat the odds, again — just as he did by turning an NBA training camp invite at the age of 27 into a $70 million NBA career.
Yes, he knows that he’s up for a significant challenge. He anticipates being “pissed off” by the intrinsically slow nature of ACL recovery post-surgery, for example. He has the intention to use the services of Dr. Ronald Kimmons, the Jazz’s Director of Wellness & Human Performance/Mental Skills Coach. Already, he’s experienced tough moments: in order to try to reduce swelling, team training staff had him try to use an exercise bike, which Ingles called “incredibly miserable.”
But he’s got a good team around him, too. Number one on that list, Ingles says, is his wife Renae. She’s created a plan for his rehab routine, telling him: “It’s not about you coming back, you’re going to come back better.”
He’s also said he’s leaning on two doctors in particular. One, Erik Phillips, Jazz Director of Performance, is not a surprise. But Ingles also cited Mike Elliott — the Jazz’s former Vice President of Performance Health Care who departed the organization in the offseason after the team and star guard Donovan Mitchell disagreed on when Mitchell would be available in the playoffs last season — as playing a big role in his rehab process too.
“Obviously, I trust him probably close to more than anybody with my body after what he did for me, for however many years. (It’ll be) him playing a part, for sure.”
Ingles plans on rehabbing mostly in Salt Lake City, even if his expiring contract is moved over the next week as the NBA’s trade deadline approaches. When asked if he would like to re-sign with the Jazz this summer if he’s traded or not, Ingles said, “if you could like, put a magic mirror out there, that would be the ideal situation” — but acknowledged that he doesn’t yet know what would happen.
He’s had sleepless nights before and after the injury, considering where his current play and where future would be.
“I’ve been pretty confident that I was going to be here through deadlines every other year. There was obviously a lot more talk this year, whether that because of the way I was playing or the contract or whatever,” Ingles said.
His dream scenario is to recover, find his footing in the NBA again, play in the 2024 Olympics in Paris, and then sit down with Renae and his then-older children and decide what to do next.
“Would I love to just play forever and live here for ages? That would be really cool to make money and play basketball for the rest of my life. But that’s going to be a stage where I’m going to sit down with Renae and the kids,” Ingles said.
In some ways, the Olympics might end up as the most important markers in Ingles’ career: after all, playing and winning the Olympic Bronze medal this summer was a worthwhile endeavor, but it also robbed him of some time he could have used to recover for this NBA season. He felt fine before the injury, but he wasn’t playing well, not close to the way he thought he could.
“Maybe it was my body just telling me that if I’m not going to take a break myself, this is going to make me,” Ingles said. “I knew I was playing like s---, like, I was very well aware. I was always very much aware that I wasn’t playing to the level that I know I can play at, and that I will play at in 10 months time.”
But he anticipates a shorter break from NBA action than others. He laughed when a fan on Twitter suggested a “moment of silence” for him at the Jazz’s next home game. Moreover, take his reaction to Jazz radio voice David Locke, who asked fans to give their best memories of Ingles’ Jazz career on Twitter:
“You were acting like I was dead, like I was never going to play again!” Ingles laughed.
If he has anything to say about it, the rumors of Ingles’ death may have been greatly exaggerated.
“I’m very confident. Each day that I go through this, I think about ‘Where will I play? What does it look like?” Ingles said.
“There’s nothing in my mind, there’s been no path or door that I’ve opened, that’s like, ‘No, I won’t be able to do that or I won’t be able to get back.’ I just don’t.”