Why Lonzo Ball believes he’ll play for the Chicago Bulls again



NASHVILLE — A few weeks Before the start of training camp, a Chicago Bulls executive flew to Los Angeles for a tryout. Lonzo Ball.

It’s been more than 20 months since Ball played in an NBA game, with three knee surgeries and a few devastating setbacks under his belt. And while what he observed while completing his daily rehabilitation process from the executive force may seem mundane, it was remarkable.

Ball hasn’t progressed to the point in his rehab where he’s picked up a basketball, but the progress he’s made, albeit small, has given the 2017 numbers. 2 Overall he has the confidence to declare that he will “definitely” play again.

“After other surgeries, this has definitely been the best [the] The recovery process,” Ball told ESPN outside the training room as the rest of the team began training camp in Nashville this week. “My last two rehabs, I was getting better and then it hit a plateau and it started going downhill . And I haven’t hit it yet.”

Ball is finally getting through his rehabilitation process — starting with the training table, an intense stretching routine, followed by mobility and strength work — without the lingering pain and discomfort that has plagued him since early 2022.

“Honestly, being out as long as I’ve been out and dealing with all the injuries I’ve had I think you have to be positive,” he said. “First and foremost. If you lose your mind, you’re going to lose the battle. So it always starts with being positive and hoping for the best.”

Ball is hoping for the best from January. 14, 2022, when he checked out in the fourth quarter of a blowout loss to the Golden State Warriors, the last time he saw action in an NBA game.

If and when Ball returns — he’s already ruled out for the 2023-24 season, but is targeting a 2024-25 return — he’ll miss more than 1,000 days of action. Coming back from such an absence to be a productive player is incredibly rare. Still, Ball, who turns 26 later this month, isn’t deterred by history or long odds.

“It’s motivation for me because there are people out there who count,” Ball said. “For me, it’s about getting back and doing what I love to do and doing, which is playing basketball.”

Ball knows He has been playing basketball professionally since at least seventh grade.

His father, LaVar, made sure his three sons — Lonzo, LiAngelo and LaMelo — were always competing with the older kids until the trio reached high school. Lonzo and LaMelo dominated high school basketball, going 35-0 at Chino Hills in 2016, winning a state title and being ranked no. 1 in caste.

However, Lonzo Ball’s first five NBA seasons (two with the Los Angeles Lakers before being traded to the New Orleans Pelicans in 2019, then joining the Bulls via sign-and-trade in 2021) have been slowed by injuries. And when he had arthroscopic knee surgery before training camp in 2018, he didn’t go that long without playing basketball.

“That was the hardest part, not being able to play physically,” Ball said. “Honestly it’s hard for me to watch games because I know what I can do out there, and the fact that I literally can’t help on the court, that’s hard for me to deal with. … But just seeing the light at the end of the tunnel and knowing that if I If I keep getting better and working, I’ll be able to play again.”

Ball still watches his share of basketball, especially games with his brothers (LaMelo stars for the Charlotte Hornets and LiAngelo plays for their G League affiliate the Greensboro Swarm), but for the most part, Ball manages his time away from basketball. Internally, relies mostly on her family and friends to stay grounded.

“He had to go through it on his own,” the Bulls guard Jack Lavin, who tore the ACL in his left knee in 2017, told ESPN. “What an injury. It’s between the ears. That’s how you carry yourself.

“As a friend and a teammate, I try to help him whenever he asks. He’s a guy who doesn’t ask for too much. You can tell, he doesn’t want to depend on other people.”

Instead, once the ball is in possession the basketball moves to the hobby off the court to fill the time. He’s playing video games for the first time — some NBA 2K, but mostly Madden — and working on a documentary about his high school team that went 35-0. But basically he started writing songs again.

Ball released a few rap tracks early in his career and even competed on “The Masked Singer,” but he hasn’t dropped any new music since 2020. Now, while away from basketball, he has again found solace in music, producing songs that fit the documentaries.

“I like to write,” he said. “Whether it’s in my notes, on my computer, on my iPad, I’m always writing something down.

“It’s just like a release. As far as music for sure. I just write about what happened in my past and what I see with my own two eyes and just put it on paper. It helps me figure things out.”

When the bull Ball was brought in during the 2021 offseason to team up with LaVine Demar DeRozan, they envisioned a high-powered offense that would propel them to the top of the Eastern Conference. And for a brief moment, that’s exactly what they got.

Chicago started the 2021-22 season 27-13 and led the East by a game over the Miami Heat when the ball was last played. With him out of the lineup, they lost four of their next five games to fall out of first place and finish sixth by the end of the season.

Ball first underwent surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his left knee with an initial return timeline of six to eight weeks in 2022. When his knee did not improve, he underwent a second surgery in September 2022 around the start of training camp.

Last year, amid season-long uncertainty over whether Ball could return, the Bulls struggled just to reach the play-in tournament, where they fell to the Eastern Conference Heat champions in the eighth-seeded game. In March, Ball underwent cartilage transplant surgery on his left knee, which also ruled him out for 2023–24.

“We all know how much we love and miss Lonzo,” LaVine said. “You can’t replace a guy like that.”

While the Bulls are optimistic, sources say the organization is still unsure if Ball will play for them again, as he still has a long way to go in his rehabilitation process. But his progress after this recent surgery has given all parties cause for hope.

“It’s good to see him in good spirits because it’s a good thing when you have someone that talented and the basketball is taken away from you,” LaVine said. “Watching him work his way back, being around the team, watching him in the weight room, watching him do things on the court, it’s a sight for the eyes.”

According to ESPN Stats & Information research, the last two players to go more than 1,000 days between games are Emeka Okafor and Greg Oden, and they didn’t even play 30 games in the only season after they returned.

The most optimistic comparison for Ball is probably Bill Walton, a two-time All-Star and NBA MVP during which injuries forced him to miss three of four seasons, including more than 900 consecutive days. Walton returned to play in 245 games after missing all of that time, including 80 in 1985–86 (when he won Sixth Man of the Year honors) and played his final game at age 34.

Clay Thompson He missed two entire seasons with knee and Achilles injuries before returning in 2021-22, then led the NBA in 3-point field goals made in 2022-23. Shaun Livingston injured his knee at the age of 21 in 2007 while playing for the LA Clippers. He missed most of the next two seasons, but ended up playing 10 more seasons and winning three championships with the Warriors.

It’s a level Ball, an All-Rookie second-team selection in 2017-18, believes he can bounce back.

“For me, it’s just putting in the work and chips where they can read,” Ball said.

If Ball continues to improve without discomfort, he plans to return to the basketball court in January. Although unable to participate in basketball activities, he joined the team in Nashville and plans to split his rehabilitation time between Los Angeles and Chicago.

“Any positive move for him promotes a good outlook,” DeRozan told ESPN. “He’s been the most positive person through this whole process of taking something away over the last few years. …Even on the team plane the other day, you realized how much we missed him: DJing, playing cards, laughing, joking, talking. Saying —. You miss it. Just seeing him in such a rare form means a lot.”

And while it may come as a surprise, maintaining that positive outlook, even in the midst of such extended absences, has come naturally to the ball.

“It might sound harsh, but at the end of the day for me, I know that I’m still very blessed and I’m still better than a lot of people in the world,” he said. “I can’t complain about the injuries I’ve had. I still have a great life. Most of my family is healthy. Other than basketball, there’s no real struggle in my life and I’m blessed for that.”



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