BOSTON -- Kendrick Perkins can now look ahead -- optimistically and realistically -- to
the day he will again play basketball for the Celtics. He said that day is not that far
away; he's pointing to a mid- to late-January return date.
When he does return, he'll have many people to thank for getting him
through the recovery process of major knee surgery. But two stand out: Wes Welker
of the New England Patriots and a deceased man whose identity will forever remain
Perkins tore both the anterior cruciate ligament and the medial collateral ligament in his right knee during Game 6 of the
2010 NBA Finals. He waited a month before undergoing surgery, getting a second
opinion from Dr. Thomas Gill, the man who performed the ACL surgery for Welker.
Gill told Perkins to get his quad muscle as strong as possible. Perkins did that and
then had the surgery July 15.
Monday was the four-month anniversary of the procedure, which was
performed by Celtics team physician Dr. Brian McKeon. Perkins walks without a
brace, can do shooting drills and, to the untrained eye, looks like he could step in at
starting center Wednesday night against the Wizards.
"He is looking great,'' McKeon said. "He's keeping his weight
down. He's sticking to the proper diet. But it was a major surgery, and I always tell
athletes that it could be 18 months before it's the best that it can be."
That might be McKeon's take, but Perkins plans to be on the court six months
after the operation. For that, he thanks Welker, the Patriots' diminutive wide
receiver, for being a daily inspiration during the long, arduous days of rehab.
"My motivation was Wes Welker,'' Perkins said. "Watching him come back
after six months and now he's on the field, without a brace. That's unbelievable. I
watch him. But at the same time, you also have to listen to your own body. I feel
great. But I still use him as motivation. I come in, put in my rehab and think of him. I
do more when they ask me to do more."
Welker and Perkins met at a recent Celtics game, with the Pats playmaker
offering the Celtics center his best for a speedy recovery. Welker blew out his left
knee Jan. 3, was back working out at training camp in the summer and played in
the Patriots' season opener against the Bengals.
"He's kind of getting to the stage where he can do some things, move
around, but it's one of those deals that you have to stay after it,'' Welker said of
Perkins. "Even the days you don't want to work on it, those are the most important
days to make sure you are working on it. There were a lot of days where I woke up
and it was like, 'No way!' I won't be able to do anything. But you warm it up and then
you're able to get a good day's work in, where a lot of times people take that day
While Welker provided the inspiration, some unknown man made it possible
for Perkins to even begin the recuperative process. In many ACL reconstructions,
surgeons use either the individual's patella tendon or a hamstring to rebuild the
torn ligament. Doctors ruled out using Perkins' patella (kneecap) tendon because it is
already diseased; Perkins, like most big men in the NBA, has jumper's knee, or
patellar tendinitis. And because of the life he leads, he needs that area to be as
strong as it can be, deterioration notwithstanding. There's a third option available, however, called an allograft. That involves using a tissue from a cadaver. That is what McKeon did for Perkins (as well as Tony Allen and Leon Powe).
In Perkins' case, McKeon used a hybrid, combining some of Perkins' hamstring with the cadaver tissue. McKeon said the tissue provider was a man, likely younger than Perkins. He said surgeons frequently get cadaver tissue from authorized donors and that, oftentimes, more than 100 specimens can come from a single cadaver.
So, is it correct to say that Perk is, well, a dead man walking? Who will soon
be a dead man running, rebounding, blocking shots and setting (legal) picks? Six
months after the surgery?
"We have come a long way,'' McKeon said. "We understand things quicker.
We understand things better. We understand things more accurately than ever
before. And we understand and recognize what is needed."
Perkins rarely played during his rookie season, as two Celtics strength and conditioning coaches rebuilt his body. That was frustrating for him. Waiting to get back this season is almost as tough but eased somewhat by the fact that his team is doing well. The Celtics' 8-2 record tops the Eastern Conference.
"The team and the organization have done a good job of staying positive
around me,'' he said. "Everything they do includes me. Obviously, I want to be out
there. But at the same time, I'm thinking rehab, rehab, rehab. We should be all right
until I get back. But we're pretty good now, you know? Still, I see some things we can
So, for the next two months, the days will continue to consist of four to five
hours of lifting weights, running the treadmill, swimming in the pool with Shaq (yes,
the same pool) and getting in some basketball work. He said he takes 250 shots a
Oh, and while fans don't necessarily expect Perkins to morph into Mark Price, the Celtics center, a career 60 percent free throw shooter, said he plans to be much more reliable at the line.
"I know about the free throws and I can't disappoint the fans,'' he said. "So
I've been working on them. A lot. I shoot 250 a day. My goal is to be shooting in the
high 70 percent, close to 80."
Maybe that would be the most amazing product of this injury and recovery. Not that he did it in six months. Not that he did it with a picture of Wes Welker in his
head and a dead man's tissue in his knee. That he came back and could make four
out of every five throws.
Now, if he can just work on those illegal screens and the technical fouls, it
will be deemed a complete and total recovery.
ESPNBoston.com's Patriots writer Mike Reiss contributed to this story. Longtime Celtics reporter Peter May is a contributor to ESPNBoston.com.