Philadelphia 76ers fans don’t like to be reminded of the nightmare that was Markelle Fultz. After going No. 1 overall in the 2017 NBA Draft, Fultz seemingly forgot how to shoot a basketball and was traded to the Orlando Magic after just two seasons in Philly.
A few years after first being labeled one of the biggest draft busts of the 21st century, Fultz finally opened up about what caused his career-altering shoulder injury and the funky jump shot that got him shipped out of Philadelphia.
Markelle Fultz tried to play through a rare shoulder injury
Right before Fultz’s rookie year with the 76ers, he started feeling pain in his shoulder. That pain eventually was diagnosed as Thoracic Outlet Syndrome, which is a rare nerve injury that doesn’t show up on an MRI or CAT scan.
Fultz recently appeared on The Rematch podcast with Etan Thomas and said he simply tried to play through his mysterious injury.
“I tried to work through it,” Fultz said. “I’m going in the gym, shooting thousands of shots, trying to shoot through it. And the whole time, I just continued to make it worse. But again, the mindset that I had, I’m just trying to grind. I’m trying to continue to work through these issues, and not knowing that I’m making it worse.”
But that’s exactly what he did.
Eventually, Fultz became so affected by his TOS that his shooting stroke started to deteriorate before our eyes. He played just 14 games in his rookie season and shot an abysmal 47.6% from the free-throw line, all while looking like someone who was just learning how to shoot a basketball for the first time.
Fultz details how his bizarre shoulder injury affected his jump shot
No one at the time, including Fultz, knew exactly what was going on with his shoulder. All Fultz knew was that his once-smooth shooting stroke was falling apart.
“When I would try to shoot, it almost felt like I had a too-small suit jacket on,” he explained. “So I would go, try to go up, and it felt like somebody was almost holding my arm there. I would try to move fast, but I felt like I couldn’t move fast. So what I ended up doing is continue to try to shoot on it. I ended up building up more and more pressure on my shoulder where I’m not using… where I’m starting to hinge my shoulder up. I’m starting to use the wrong muscles, and I’m building bad habits.”
And remember those bizarre double-pumps Fultz would do at the free-throw line? He had an explanation for those, too.
“I would lose feeling in my hand. And so, that’s the reason I’d double-clutch because I would get here and I wouldn’t feel like the ball was in my hand,” he continued. “But when I’d come up, my feeling would come back because the way it is — when I’m going through a certain motion — my muscles are pushing on my nerve, which is cutting my feeling off. And when I go through, it releases off the nerve, and that’s when I would get my feeling back.”
Passion for the game did him in
It must’ve been hard for Fultz — especially with all the pressure he had on his shoulders as a No. 1 pick — to go through his entire rookie year with no clue as to why he could no longer shoot a mid-range jumper. But as he explained on The Rematch pod, his love for the game and his goal of bringing the 76ers back to relevancy might’ve ruined his career in Philly.
“A lot of people just don’t know my love for the game,” Fultz said. “Growing up in the area I grew up, you have bumps and bruises. But that’s where it becomes a business, taking care of your body. And me being who I am, loving the game so much, I feel like, although my shoulder was messed up, I feel like I can still contribute to the game and help my team win. So I wanted to go out there and just compete and have fun with the game.”