He saw limited playing time in his first couple of seasons in the NBA, but still managed to lead his team in blocked shots. Then, in the summer before his third year in the league, Ratliff experienced the first of a series of painful and debilitating injuries:
My third year in the league, in the summer league after my second year, I banged knees with a guy and got a crack in my kneecap. It was my contract year, so I didn't have the surgery. So I played the whole third year with the cracked kneecap -- which was extremely painful, knee blowing up, swelling up.
To manage the pain and avoid surgery for as long as possible, Ratliff took anti-inflammatory medications like Advil and Vioxx. Because he had to stand up to daily practices and games, he needed to take frequent doses of the medications. Soon, Ratliff started to notice side effects he wasn't happy with. He began to question his treatment approach and eventually did something drastic. He explains:
I noticed a change ... in my kidneys, as far as me being able to urinate or lack of control I had with my urination. And so, I stopped taking it. Because I knew that's what it was. So I said I'm not going to take it anymore, so I played in total pain for that whole second half of the season.
Ratliff decided that painkillers alone weren't helping the situation. He had the same problems with cortisone shots that he had with Vioxx and Advil. With the pain artificially masked, it was hard to tell how much additional damage he might be doing to his knee.
Over the next several seasons, from 1999 to 2001, Ratliff experienced injuries to his ankle, wrist and hip. He missed 25 games in 2000. In 2001, he was able to play only 50 of the 82 regular-season games. In total, he missed 134 of 246 games from 1999 to 2002. Growing increasingly frustrated, he took a long, hard look at his routine but couldn't figure out what was making his body so vulnerable to injury:
I'm a guy who maintains his body, keeps himself in great shape all season and all summer long. And then these things were just happening to me, and I'm doing things to myself that weren't happening before.
Was he doing something wrong or was it just a streak of bad luck?
Next, we'll examine the solutions that Ratliff believes have helped him remain injury-free and at the top of his game for the past two seasons.