On two plays last Friday in New Orleans, the NBA may have changed dramatically. In an otherwise ugly Magic-Hornets match-up, Jameer Nelson ran into Jarrett Jack’s shoulder going for a loose ball. He stayed on the floor for a few moments before walking to the sideline. He came back into the game in the next quarter only to take another elbow to the head and to go down to the floor again.
At the time, the Magic said he was out for the game with a “sore jaw.” It turned out though that Nelson was suffering from nausea and headaches. Classic signs of a concussion.
Basketball is not quite the physical sport that football is. It is not a game built on contact and hitting. But with the focus and understanding of the impact of concussions have gained through diagnosis in football, the NBA wanted to ensure its player’s safety.
That is why the league instituted a policy for its teams on how to deal with concussions before allowing players to play. It is understood now that returning from a concussion too soon leaves the player susceptible to a second concussion. And, remember, these are brain injuries. That is kind of an important organ.
The league’s standards have not really been tested yet this season.
Nelson and the way the Magic have handled his concussion symptoms very much are setting the precedent for this ambitious and important issue for the league.
The basis of the policy, which was explained on the Magic’s local telecast on Sun Sports during their game against the Wizards on Wednesday, is a three-step process.
First, each player in the league was tested at the beginning of the season using a computer program that measures memory, reaction time, eye movement and balance. The scores the player gets on this first test is the measure on which the player is compared to if he ever suffers concussion symptoms and needs to be tested.
To get back on the floor, the player has to pass those same series of tests and score close to their baseline. In addition, the team’s trainer will make sure the concussion symptoms are gone. The NBA is also requiring players to consult with Dr. Jeffrey Kutcher, the Neuro Sport Director at the University of Michigan.
For a player like Nelson, you know they have to be itching to get back on the court. But so much is being learned all the time about the long-term effects of concussions, the NBA is not taking any risks anymore.
The Magic are not taking many risks either. Trainer Keon Weise and the Magic have instituted their own policy to go along with step two.
Once Nelson became symptom free, the Magic put Nelson through a series of escalating tests before clearing him to play. These are really a series of workouts with tests following to make sure the player is truly symptom free.
The first workout under the Magic’s training protocol is to have the player ride a stationary bike at 80 percent of his maximum heart rate. The player is then tested against his baseline to make sure the symptoms have not returned. Jameer Nelson successfully completed this step Wednesday. But he still has a few more tests to go.
The next training workout is a motion exercise like jogging, followed by individual basketball drills and then participation in a full team practice. A computer test against the preseason baseline is used and must be passed before moving on to the next one. After passing the full team practice hurdle without any symptoms or any deviations from the preseason baseline, the player can be cleared to play after that consultation with Dr. Kutcher.
And that is the way the Magic are handling Nelson’s concussion. He was originally injured last Friday. He began the second stage of getting cleared on Wednesday. The earliest he is likely to be available to play is for Monday’s game against the Clippers. With all said, Nelson is looking at being out for nearly a week and a half with the concussion. It might be two weeks if the symptoms return.
Very few NBA teams have had to settle their policies when it comes to clearing players to play after suffering concussions. Consider this the case of first impression and the precedent for the NBA’s new concussion policy.