Athletes who specialize in their sport at an early age may be at risk for burnout, overuse injury, and reduced attainment of elite status. Timing of sport specialization has not been studied in elite basketball athletes.
National Basketball Association (NBA) players who played multiple sports during adolescence would be less likely to experience injury and would have higher participation rates in terms of games played and career length compared with single-sport athletes.
Descriptive epidemiology study.
First-round draft picks from 2008 to 2015 in the NBA were included in the study. From publically available records from the internet, the following data were collected for each athlete: participation in high school sports, major injuries sustained in the NBA, percentage of games played in the NBA, and whether the athlete was still active in the NBA. Athletes who participated in sports in addition to basketball during high school were defined as multisport athletes and were compared with athletes who participated only in basketball in high school.
Two hundred thirty-seven athletes were included in the study, of which 36 (15%) were multisport athletes and 201 (85%) were single-sport athletes in high school. The multisport cohort played in a statistically significantly greater percentage of total games (78.4% vs 72.8%; P < .001). Participants in the multisport cohort were less likely to sustain a major injury during their career (25% vs 43%, P= .03). Finally, a greater percentage of the multisport athletes were active in the league at time of data acquisition, indicating increased longevity in the NBA (94% vs 81.1%; P = .03).
While a minority of professional basketball athletes participated in multiple sports in high school, those who were multi-sport athletes participated in more games, experienced fewer major injuries, and had longer careers than those who participated in a single sport. Further research is needed to determine the reasons behind these differences.