Stephen Curry takes a hard upside down fall and lands on his head, but minutes later he’s back in the game. Dwight Harden assaults another player in a manner that just got a lesser known player ejected the day before, and he’s allowed to remain in the game. The reasons are obvious: the NBA is built on its star players, and it knows it. The league simply can’t afford for its most popular players to be absent from games, particularly during the postseason – but is it eating away at the integrity and the safety of the game?
Doctors claim Steph Curry suffered from a head contusion, not a concussion. In medical terms those aren’t the same thing. But in terms of player safety, they’re essentially a distinction without a difference. When he re-entered the game, he was so woozy he promptly threw up an airball on an easy shot. This the league’s best shooter. He doesn’t miss those shots period, let alone by a mile. Later he gets enough of his balance back to hit a three pointer. But then later he misses an uncontested layup.
From the standpoint of the Golden State Warriors, having Curry back out there at eighty percent or even fifty percent might be more valuable than playing his backup at one hundred percent. But from a medical safety standpoint, it’s difficult to justify the decision. The NFL is being raked over the coals for its prior practice of allowing concussed players back onto the field, yet the NBA gets a pass here. Some will argue that due to the nature of the sport, it’s far less likely that a basketball player will fall on his head twice in the same game than would be the case with a football player. But that seems to miss the point; head injuries are always the exception to begin with, and when they occasionally happen, they must be treated differently than any other form of sports injury.
Unless of course you’re the biggest star in the western conference and your team is one win away from reaching the NBA Finals, in which case doctors and coaches and officials send you right back into the game, sink or swim.
Dwight Howard is another matter entirely, but with similar motivations. He was being antagonized by an opposing player, and responded in the kind of physical way that nearly always gets a player ejected. In fact it’s the kind of response that got Al Horford of the Atlanta Hawks ejected in the eastern conference series. But then, as talented as he may be, the NBA doesn’t need Al Horford on the court in the way it needs Stephen Curry or Dwight Howard on the court. It’s our fault, really. The NBA knows that if the stars aren’t on the court, we’ll change the channel.