Festus Ezeli played out his rookie contract with the Golden State Warriors, serving as a role player on both the 2014-2015 NBA title team and last year’s 2015-2016 record-setting 73-9 regular season roster.
As a result, the 6’11”, 265 pound big man received some interest on the open market this past offseason, eventually signing a two-year, $15.2 million deal with the Portland Trail Blazers.
Unfortunately, Portland’s investment hasn’t worked out, as Ezeli has yet to play a single game with his new team due to a serious left knee injury.
According to Chris Haynes of ESPN.com, he will undergo a surgical procedure on that knee next week.
But the reason for the delay on his season-ending surgery makes the story interesting.
The procedure requires the use of a cadaver donor. And they just found a match.
Due to his tall stature, finding a donor was problematic, according to Haynes.
He will be the first player in NBA history to have surgery involving a cadaver donor.
Crossing over sports, Arizona Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer is the most notable recent athlete to have a similar procedure to the one that Ezeli needs.
Tearing both his ACL and MCL during a 2006 playoff game, Palmer was told that it could potentially end his career. However, he received a cadaver ligament from a drunken driver victim and was able to go under the knife, rehab, run and appear under center in Week 1 the next season.
In 2006, the quarterback said of the donor: "Unfortunately, someone had to pass for my recovery to happen. If people didn't donate, my surgery, my recovery and everything else after isn't successful or even possible. It's a lot to think about, just how lucky I am.”
It’s also worth noting that during his four-year strint with the Warriors, Ezeli had surgery on both knees. Therefore, the recovery process is completely up in the air and it’s a very realistic possibility that the Blazers won’t see him suit up in either year of his two-year deal.
Ezeli established himself as a viable rotational NBA big last season in Golden State, where he averaged 7.0 points, 5.6 rebounds and 1.1 blocks over 16.7 minutes per contest in 46 games played.
While multiple knee injuries and surgeries is never a good sign for a young center, at least Ezeli can look at Palmer’s story with some optimism towards the future.