It was just the 4th game of a fresh new NBA season, and the Celtics were at home getting ready to take on the Chicago Bulls - a team that had beaten them just 6 days prior. Yet their prized offseason acquisition, Al Horford, was not at the TD Garden. He was sitting at home, with the lights off, watching the game while wearing a pair of sunglasses, and a feeling of frustration that he was unable to help his new team.
This was unchartered territory for Horford, who was concussed in team practice two days earlier. The last time Horford had a concussion was about four years ago while playing in Atlanta, but he was ready to get back on the court the next day. This time not only was he not ready to go, but his condition worsened over the next couple of days, which turned into weeks. Via Adam Himmelsbach of the Boston Globe:
“As the days kept going by, I started to feel worse,” he said. “Just a lot of things that wouldn’t go away. It was a lot of stuff I didn’t really understand, because it’s never happened to me before.”
“It was all a very weird time for me,” Horford said, “because, like, what do you do when you can’t do anything?”
Horford was told to avoid strenuous activities, drink lots of water, and stay away from the cell phone and television. Al followed the doctors orders, only making an exception for watching the Celtics games when they were on.
After two weeks of rest Horford came back and started working with the Celtics training staff, but working out in the arena with the bright lights and the noise set him right back where he started:
“Then I noticed that just being in the arena, these lights, would kill me,” he said. “They would bring my symptoms back. I felt like I was close to fainting. The noise and the lights would bring everything back to square one.”
So instead of sitting with the team and watching the game from the bench, Horford was relegated to a dark room in the bowels of the Garden. After a few days back working with the training staff Horford decided that he felt good enough to make a road trip to Indiana and New Orleans. He wasn't quite ready to go for the first game against the Pacers, but the plan was for Horford to get back on the court for the matchup against the Pelicans.
Things didn't quite go as planned. After a great workout in New Orleans Horford felt nauseous again, and was immediately sent home by coach Brad Stevens. Horford was growing more and more frustrated as each game would pass. His team was struggling without him. The Celtics were just 4-5 in the 9 games Al missed, but Stevens was quick to remind him that he's got a wife, child, and a baby on the way - which trumps anything to do with the Celtics or his basketball career.
“Concussions, you have to be really honest with yourself, and sometimes that’s hard to do,” he said. “As athletes, we’re always trained to play through stuff. And I’ve played through all types of injuries — ankle sprains, shoulder, whatever — and with the brain it’s just different. That was the hard part for me to understand.”
We hear more about concussions in the NFL and NHL, due to the huge impacts that are so commonplace in both games. According to a study done by Jeff Stotts of FiveThirtyEight.com back in 2014 an NBA player experienced a concussion once for every 149.5 games played over 6 year period - that's the lowest in all of the four major sports in the US. The same study done in the NFL exposed that a player is subject to a concussion every 1.4 games played. An alarming number to say the least.
Most NBA players are not very accustomed to the aftermath and physical effects that comes after a concussion, because they are so infreuqent. As frustrating as it can be for fans, it's even more so for the players, particularly a guy like Horford who wants nothing more than to be on the court helping his team. It's important though that these guys are given the proper time to recover from these type of injuries - not just for the long term scope of the team and their career, but their health and well being off the court and after basketball as well.
All is well with Horford now, and the Celtics are 7-3 since he's returned to the lineup. Let's hope that's the end of his concussion story.
Related: Concussions, Al Horford's brain, and the Celts' future: some perspective
Photo Credits - Jeremy Brevard/USA Today, Nuccio DiNuzzo/Chicago Tribune
Follow Mark on Twitter: @MarkAL401 Mark Allison 12/09/2016 11:28:00 AM Tweet Edit