Miami Heat star Meyers Leonard shared a heartfelt Instagram post on New Year’s Eve, opening about the hardships of 2020 and the left ankle injury that bumped him out of the starting rotation last season.
On December 31, Leonard shared photos on Instagram from February 3, 2020, the night he seriously sprained his ankle, and wrote, “Pain. That’s what I felt. A hell of a lot of pain – physically and emotionally. But that’s 2020, right? As crazy as this may sound, I wouldn’t change it for anything and I’ll explain why.”
“I’ve learned over the years and throughout my life that pain and suffering are actually what makes a person,” the 28-year-old center continued. “Not success or the easy times. When we build a certain threshold for pain and suffering, we then know what we’re capable of dealing with and handling as new challenges arise in our lives. This doesn’t mean that it isn’t hard as hell sometimes, but it will all get better.”
“I’ve been blessed in many ways in my life and I’ll be forever grateful. Make no mistake, though – I’m thankful for the pain and suffering too. To my wife, my family, friends, fans and everyone else – THANK YOU. Happy New Year everyone.”
After reading Leonard’s vulnerable post, teammate Jimmy Butler had one very strong message to share with his buddy, and he wrote it in all caps. “NO. MORE. EURO. STEPS.!!!!” — which is likely Butler’s way of saying, “I love you, man. And I need you to stay healthy.”
Leonard Struggled to Rehabilitate His Body Back Into Shape
In April, Leonard opened up about the frustrating journey of coming back from an injury. Two months after he sprained his ankle, “My best answer as to where I would be right now, would be, I don’t know, 90 percent?” Leonard said. “Because the truth is, I haven’t shot a jump shot. I haven’t tried to go up and dunk off one or two feet. I haven’t had to guard pick and roll.”
In order to build up strength, Leonard worked out from his home in Miami and with Heat’s director of rehabilitation Brandon Gilliam two to three times a week.
“I do have a pool, thankful for that — both for tanning and rehab purposes, I should say,” he said. “But in all seriousness, we’re able to use the pool. Obviously, the buoyancy of water allows for me to do some movements and such that I otherwise wouldn’t be able to do on the ground.”
“In terms of basketball shape, I’m certainly not there,” he admitted. “And in terms of basketball-specific movement and taking the physical demand of, say, guarding a Joel Embiid, guarding a [Domantas] Sabonis, I don’t know if I could do that right now.”
“However, I do feel good. The swelling is coming down every day, as my body understands that load management and obviously the connection between literally the brain and my body and my ankle. And now it allows me to do everyday life things totally normal.”
Leonard Is Back in the Heat’s Starting Lineup for the 2020-2021 Season… Sort Of
Leonard was able to rehab his ankle during the NBA’s league suspension due to COVID-19, but he was replaced with Jae Crowder once the season restarted. After missing 16 games before the NBA shut down, Heat’s head coach Erik Spoelstra didn’t rush Leonard back into the lineup.
Crowder has since signed with the Phoenix Suns, and Leonard is back in the starting lineup… sort of. While the 7-foot, 260-pound stud started 49 games of the 2019 season before getting injured, Coach Spo is still shuffling the starting lineup around this season.
While Leonard sat out the team’s season opener, he started the following two games, but then stayed on the bench during the next matchup. With a position-less roster, Spoelstra has enforced a “team-first” mindset in the locker room and on the court.
“You just can see and sense it with Spo that everything changes on the fly and you gotta be ready,” Leonard said on Decemer 28. “We have our foundation and we have our habits. But then there are small tweaks every single night. He says, ‘No, we’re getting this one win.’ Then — boom — we’ll make adjustments and we’ll move to the next game.”