OAKLAND Seven-footers don't fear much. They deliver and absorb sharp elbows. They set jarring screens that freeze opponents and free up their smaller teammates. And they are thrilled beyond words that Shaquille O'Neal is talking trash on TNT these days instead of punishing with his massive size, strength and skill.
But 7-footers fear their feet. The slightest twinge makes them nervous. As one specialist explained years ago when Bill Walton was attempting another comeback from yet another fractured foot bone, ankles and feet weren't designed to support human beings who weigh upwards of 270 pounds and spend their days and nights running up and down basketball courts.
"Yao Ming," Andrew Bogut reminded the other day. "I know he retired early because of foot injuries."
Bogut has talked at length about his health issues these past several days because, frankly, the Warriors wouldn't be preparing for their second-round matchup against the San Antonio Spurs if their 7-foot, 260-pound center hadn't provided a dominant defensive presence against the long, athletic, rim-attacking Denver Nuggets, particularly in the series clincher.
Afterward, inquiring minds wanted to know. Where ya been, mate?
A search party would have found the big Aussie spending more time with doctors and nurses than teammates and coaches. Obtained in the controversial trade that sent Monta Ellis, Kwame Brown and Ekpe Udoh to the Milwaukee Bucks in March 2012, Bogut a month later underwent a procedure in his left ankle that he termed "similar" to the dreaded micro-fracture surgery.
This season, he played 32 games. The Warriors won 47 games and the sixth seed in the Western Conference, and given their veteran center's recent history and recurring absences, they weren't exactly counting on Bogut to slip on his Superman cape and rush to the rescue.
But NBA postseasons are crazy and occasionally unpredictable. As Kings fans can attest, Game 6 can bring out the best (Kings) and the worst (officiating) of NBA types. So Bogut's willingness to take a painkilling injection before the clincher saved the series.
"I don't take shots, ever," Bogut said later in the hallway. "That was the first one."
Unfortunately, that might not be the last. Tim Duncan awaits. Tony Parker is enjoying a career year. Gregg Popovich is a defensive wizard. David Lee's uncertain availability and the power forward's one-minute cameo Thursday did nothing to suggest he visited Lourdes and miraculously came home with a healed hip only intensifies the pressure.
Yet given the erratic, confounding nature of his career, the months and even seasons when his performance justified his selection as the No. 1 overall pick in 2005, only to be offset by recurring injuries, Bogut, 28, is the mystery man. What does he have left physically? Is he desperate enough to take another injection? At the very least, has his recent and uplifting reappearance eased the emotional burden he has lugged around since joining the Warriors?
"The season for me has been a nightmare," Bogut admitted. "It was real bad. Thinking about my career, where it's going, wondering if I'd ever get to the point like I'm playing today. Being told everything is structurally fine (in the left ankle), hearing, 'Maybe he can't play in pain,' maybe I'm a wuss. I started second-guessing myself as an athlete."
Though consistently tempered in their public comments, the Warriors for months had to be experiencing their own doubts, and wondering whether Ellis was shipped off to Milwaukee for damaged goods. But no regrets. Sometimes, even the most questionable moves provide those fringe, addition-by-subtraction benefits: Stephen Curry's emergence can be attributed to a number of factors, but primarily greater stability in his own problematic ankles and the departure of Ellis, an undersized scorer and ball-dominant two-guard.
"We had to get better defensively," Warriors general manager Bob Myers said. "When (team owner) Joe (Lacob) hired me, we talked about, 'What does this team need?' One thing we were totally aligned on was, clearly, this team needed size. Our hope was to combine shooting with size. When you look around the NBA, having somebody to protect the rim, especially in the playoffs, is extremely important."
But the thing about Bogut? What still bugs Bogut? He remembers when he was healthy and mobile and more than a rim protector. An Australian native of Croatian descent, he grew up idolizing the late Drazen Petrovic, watching tapes of the tremendous Yugoslavian teams of the 1980s that featured Toni Kukoc, Dino Radja and iconic Serbian center Vlade Divac.
"I wasn't born until 1984, and then the war started and the (Yugoslavian) team broke up," Bogut said. "But I had trainers who were Serbian and Croatian, and I heard all the stories. I also was taught to play like a European center, so I can pass, I can shoot, and I can set screens."
With a slight shrug, he smiled.
"It's a matter of staying healthy," he said.
Call The Bee's Ailene Voisin (916) 321-1208 and follow her on Twitter @ailene_voisin.