Mika Vukona's Breakers teammates pay tribute to his toughness
Notching a triple century's worth of games in any sport takes an inordinate amount of physical fortitude, and Mike Vukona's Breakers teammates will tell you no different of their team's unflappable talisman.
Vukona is preparing to become the first man in the team's history to play 300 games when the Breakers take on the Sydney Kings at the North Shore Events Centre on Thursday night.
A member of the club since its inception back in 2003, the hard-nosed forward has endured has fair share of bumps and bruises as part of a rollercoaster ride of highs and lows – the Breakers gradually making their way from cellar-dwellers to one of the NBL's premier franchises, with five finals appearances in the past six seasons including a record-setting three consecutive titles.
Vukona has been there for them all, with perhaps his most impressive, and critical, display of durability coming in an unlikely return from injury during the side's first championship run back in 2011.
The Breakers had fought their way to the semi-final series where they were confronted by a team with which they would go on to form a fierce rivalry - the Perth Wildcats.
Despite home court advantage in the series' opening game, the New Zealand side fell to a heavy defeat on a night where Vukona was forced to limp to the locker-room with what appeared to be a potentially season-ending injury.
"I remember walking into the locker-room after that game and thinking 'sh** we've lost him', for the rest of the year, not just game two," recalled long-time teammate and now Breakers head coach Paul Henare.
However, much to the surprise of teammates and staff, Vukona was able to bounce back for game two, one of the best player's on the court as the Breakers kept their season alive with a tense win to send the series back to Auckland, where they would emphatically seal their first trip to the NBL finals.
"I think it was a grade two medial strain on his knee, and two days later he was backing up in the semi-final, and a huge part of that semi-final win as well."
"I remember talking to the physio about it and he did pass it. But we don’t know how."
Vukona himself was typically deflective when asked exactly how he managed to defy medical conventions that night.
"It wasn't too tough, you just had to go out there and play," said the 34-year-old.
"It was a championship game, do or die. I think anybody on the opposition would've done the same thing."
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