Tyler Hansbrough spent the last four years in Chapel Hill torturing fellow power forwards in the ACC with his relentless aggression and unparalleled intensity. He played against bigger and stronger players. He played against guys twice as talented and ten times as athletic. He had his face mangled by a vicious Gerald Henderson elbow. None of it was enough to keep Hansbrough down. That all changed last night.
The Pacers (Tyler's current squad) were in the Windy City to run with the Bulls in a battle between two of the Eastern Conference's worst teams. Indiana was mired in a brutal six-game slide, but Hansbrough, Jim O' Brien's ace rookie off the pine, entered the game flying high after consecutive double-double performances earlier in the week. (Even though the second of which miraculously came without the aid of a made field goal. 0-5 FGA, 10-10 FTA .) His minutes were becoming more consistent as well, climbing over 30 for the first time as a professional in his 19 point, 11 rebound performance Saturday night against Atlanta. (Amazingly, the seemingly unselfish Hansbrough fired up 20 shots in that ballgame without collecting a single assist. Yinka Dare would be proud.)
So, with the teams ready to take the floor at the United Center, the sky was the limit for the workhorse wearing #50 for the Pacers. Until word hit press row that Hansbrough was out of the lineup. He would not be suiting up. What was it? A torn ACL? Ruptured bicep? Maybe even a bout of semi-respectable back spasms? No, sir. None of the above. The former college warrior would be sitting out this affair with an affliction that had previously only affected newborns and toddlers up to the age of three. Hansbrough could not play...he had an inner ear infection. Poor baby. Literally.
Seriously, when is the last time you heard of an NBA player actually sitting out a game because he had an ear infection? Come on, Ty. What's gonna be next? Perhaps missing an entire road trip with a "tummy ache?" Excusing yourself from the second leg of a back-to-back with a "sore throat?" Hell, why not just make the transformation complete and retire from the game permanently because of the unbearable pain that comes with "teething" and the nasty bout of "colic" that just won't seem to go away?
I remember having an ear infection every now and then growing up. You'd go see the Doc, sit up on the table covered with the loudest paper known to man (seriously, could you move one inch on that thing without it making a huge racket?), and let the guy take a peak in your lobe. He would poke around a little bit, flick his flashlight on and off a couple times to make us think he was actually "seeing something," and in the snap of a finger, you were bounding out to the car with a cold juicebox in hand and promises of a late-night trip to Blockbuster floating in the air. Ear Infection, Shmear Infection. This thing wasn't holding us down. We were back in pre-school the next day finger painting, singing songs, and eating enough graham crackers to ensure we wouldn't feel quite right on the inside for the next 3-6 weeks. But Ty Hansbrough, known throughout the league as a savage competitor, and one that is virtually unbreakable, could fight back no longer. Ear Infection in a 3rd round TKO.
Not surprisingly, without their sizzling spark plug off the bench, the Pacers dug themselves a cozy little 19-point first quarter hole on their way to a season-high 7th consecutive defeat. Former Dukie Josh McRoberts was forced into action in Hansbrough's place, seeing 28 minutes of court time. Needless to say, that's about 27 minutes, 53 seconds more than Josh McRoberts should ever be getting in any game unless the letters "JCC" are involved. The Bulls dominated the glass all night, bullying the Pacer bigs to the tune of a 47-31 rebounding advantage.
As NBA fans, we become accustomed to seeing a lot of things on team injury reports. Pulled muscles, twisted ankles, and even the occasional Delonte West special, "Personal Reasons." But Hansbrough's outright surrender to an apparently 'agonizing' war with the dreaded ear infection is a tale that will live on in basketball lore for years to come. The Pacers return home tonight for a clash with Memphis. Will Tyler Hansbrough be in the lineup? I highly doubt it. Word on the street is that the ear infection has settled down a bit, but the worst is still far from over. Hansbrough might have Chicken Pox. And he's already started scratching. Better get crackin' on those retirement papers...
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