Markelle Fultz is Why We Should Leave Medical Diagnoses to the Experts
Most people writing and opining about Markelle Fultz's strange start to his NBA career are not doctors. That's a problem.
Photo by Jason Szenes/EPA
Yesterday, Raymond Brothers, agent to beleaguered Philadelphia 76ers guard Markelle Fultz, told the world the source of his client’s mysterious year-and-a-half-long journey from sharpshooting first overall pick to a guy we just (generously) described as "beleaguered":
I cannot speak for you, reader, but I was surprised by this. The saga of Markelle’s hideous and profoundly ineffective shooting motion, not a problem when he was a prospect but fundamentally disqualifying when he took court as an NBA player, has been one of the strangest NBA stories imaginable. At first, I thought—everyone thought—there was something physically wrong, but as the year drifted along and Markelle continued to heave up weird horseshit with two elbows on one side of his body, it just seemed… too weird for that?
If it was physical, why was he still playing? Why couldn’t the Sixers figure out what the fuck was going on? I presumed it might have had its ORIGINS in the realm of the physical but, like, he was working with shooting coaches and whatnot. I was TOTALLY SURE it was a matter of mind and nothing else: a kid who got to the NBA and found his mind broken and strapped with an insane case of the yips. Look, I even joked about it, like two weeks ago, when the team signed known mean-ass teammate Jimmy Butler:
And hey, here I am joking about what I thought was CLEARLY his brain-breakery back in March:
But guess what! I wasn’t the only one! Check out this guy, a drive time radio host from Philly!
This, of course, is incorrect. But this perception was everywhere—Drew Hanlen, a basketball skills coach of some renown, even mentioned it to longtime Philly sportswriter Bob Ford after working with Fultz over the summer summer:
Hanlen, who is based in Los Angeles, said over the summer that Fultz had to overcome a bad case of the "yips," a crisis of confidence that injected several hitches into his shooting stroke. If he overcame that, which is yet to be confirmed, he did so with hard work.
"The number of shots that people were hearing was not an overstatement. In fact, it was actually more than that," Hanlen said. "He took somewhere around 160,000 shots from June on. He worked harder than anybody I've ever had. He was putting in four and five hours a day and, honestly, work is what got him back. He's in a great place right now and he's going to continue to get better and I think he's going to add a dynamic to the Sixers that's going to really make them exciting."
Hanlen was wrong, of course. He is a shooting coach, not a doctor.
Also not doctors?
There are any number of examples and we all got it wrong. It wasn’t the yips. It was thoracic outlet syndrome, which is a notoriously difficult condition to diagnose, so it took forever to find, and rather than listen to the only guy who actually knows what his own body is feeling, everyone—writers, fans, even the organization—was sold on the Yips Theory.
Raymond Brothers is right! Any explanation relying on the perception that Fultz is mentally fragile is totally asinine! He was the top pick in the draft, he crushed in college, he has spent his life training for this, that shit doesn’t just WASH AWAY when you come into the NBA! Yet for some reason, everyone not only had a medical opinion on this story, but they almost all went with the one that made the least amount of sense! To steal a medical aphorism, everyone heard hoofbeats and thought zebras instead of horses.
Here is a rule writers and talkers such as myself should just, uhh, abide by for the foreseeable future: when it looks like there is something wrong with a player, observe what is happening, then say to yourself Hey, I am not that person's doctor, or a doctor at all. Then: shut the fuck up! Your solution to this problem will be half cocked no matter what because you are NOT A DOCTOR! You didn’t go to med school (if you did you wouldn't have had to look up that zebra/horses thing just now)! You probably didn’t even take biology in college! You probably took geology or some other much easier science, or, if you’re like me, you went to a liberal arts college and didn’t take any hard science classes at all!
And shit, even if you ARE a doctor, you’re not HIS doctor, and you’re not privy to his health information, so maybe you should also slow your roll before diagnosing someone over television for the RTs!
The only thing these theories about a dude’s physical condition do is muddy the waters, giving teams and representatives and players cover to inject misinformation into the conversation and shade things to their public relations advantage. It turns a person’s body into a PR battleground, which it is not. It is a body! You use it to get around and play sports and have sex and shit!
And hey: if it turns out this diagnosis is wrong or not helpful and Fultz is still fucked: I AM STILL RIGHT! It’s still not my job or the job of ANY reporter to do free floating speculation about a dude’s health, it does no one any good. I didn’t follow this rule, and now I feel like an asshole, and honestly I kind of think everyone else who dipped their toes in this speculative pool probably should too.