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In The Face

We don’t get to see what happened afterwards (h/t @gifdsports) but Roy Hibbert, after taking a LeBron James elbow to the head, tries to get up and falls back to the ground the way a toddler does his first time walking. Less than an hour later, he went out to contest a potential game-winning Chris Bosh jumper. Because of Hibbert’s ability to be smart, long and in the right place, he affected the shot enough to force an airball and a big Indiana win in their quest to claim home-court advantage throughout the playoffs. More importantly, however, why in the world was he even allowed to re-enter a contest that was already played like an amateur football game?

The NBA prides itself on playing the most elegant brand of sports but of utmost significance: star power unthreatened by the hideous spectre of brain issues now being made known to the mainstream in the NFL. Self-righteous bloggers and writers everywhere poke fun and refrain from watching the violent sport of football because of its reckless handling of head injuries. I don’t have inside knowledge or a tracking system of how many players are affected on a game-by-game basis but several moments have stood out in the past year.

Harrison Barnes crashed into the ground in a playoff series against the San Antonio Spurs. He lay motionless, ostensibly after his brain spent a second rattling around his head. He went to the locker room, came back out for a couple minutes, and after appearing obviously disheveled and groggy, sat out the rest of the game.  Andrew Lynch of Hardwood Paroxysm penned a gripping, yet terrifying piece on it afterwards.

Kyle Lowry was hit in the head by a stray knee in a game a few weeks ago. Because of his toughness, they say, he returned and played the rest of the game. Afterwards, he joked, or not, about how the bright lights gave him a headache.

George HIll suffered a concussion in last year’s Game 4 playoffs against the Knicks. He finished the game, even scoring a game-high 26 points but missed the next game.

Earlier this season, Stephen Curry dove for a loose ball and came up wincing. He missed the next two games and five total days before returning to game action. He had this to say in the postgame interview:

“I haven’t had any concussion episodes before. When I first hit, it rung my bell pretty hard. I made sure I took my time. I didn’t want to put myself in jeopardy for the next game, especially with the lead we had.

“I haven’t seen any tape or anything, but the way it felt, it was definitely pretty serious.”

I’m not a doctor, have never suffered from a concussion before and own zero experience except from reading about this unfortunate experience. There are also examples of when teams held out players immediately without risking further damage (Nikola Vucevic, Anthony Davis and Chris Kaman). Kaman even had these words to say about a much stricter concussion policy. Monty Williams was also unhappy with how they kept his best player out.

As it is in the NFL, the players have to go through levels of concussion tests before getting signed off by a neurologist. I’m not sure if they have sideline neurologists on every bench in the NBA. But the Golden State Warriors, Toronto Raptors and Indiana Pacers games all had one thing in common: the score was close (all teams were in playoff games or crucial for seeding) and this happened to important players in the moment.

I’m not implying intentional negligence by medical staffs — they’re paid the big bucks to do their job — but concussion symptoms from players that are immediately recognizable from a dude watching from the comfort of his couch seem as serious as a broken hand or even worse. Those injuries would  seemingly take a player out of any game, no matter the significance. Rather, it appears that the coaches and players are the ones the most resistant to this new-age, and much safer, way of thinking. The “rub some dirt on it and get up” attitude is no longer commendable for those of us not actual professional athletes fighting for the next contract but for guys in the heat of the moment, there appears to be a tougher avenue of restriction during a game.

The NFL gets tons of crap for their overall negligence but the Kansas City medical staff effectively iced Jamaal Charles an entire postseason game after he was diagnosed with a mild concussion – not that there’s anything more oxymoronic than the word mild before something as serious as brain damage.

One would assume the NBA will have to deal with this on a louder platform sooner or later. With the way the Western Conference rivals are set up along with the Eastern Conference bloodbath at the top, there’s tons of rough play on the horizon. All it really takes is a stray elbow or knee, anyway. This might not be on the medical staffs but the coaches and players themselves? In a game as serious as one that decides whether you can advance for the ultimate goal, it’ll take a tighter leash and collaborative effect from doctors, players and coaches. And when it, knock on wood, happens to superstar, then what? If NBA teams have shown a tendency to allow their players, unable to stand after getting knocked out by an elbow to the head, to simply play the rest of the game, what happens when the stakes are significantly raised?

I don’t want to find out because at this point, I’m scared of the answer. And in the high likelihood that I don’t know what I’m talking about in terms of concussions, just forget you ever read this. I’m hoping I do.

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