MILWAUKEE — Aaron McKie remembers being popped by an elbow on the side of his head and finishing the game in Los Angeles anyway. Things started going badly a few hours later.
“I was watching TV but I wasn’t really watching. I got up, went to the bathroom, didn’t have an appetite, and I went and spit in the toilet and blood came out,” said McKie, a longtime NBA guard and now a 76ers assistant coach. “I went to the hospital and I had a mild concussion.”
Still, McKie said, he played the next game because “concussions weren’t a big thing at that time.”
The NBA told The Associated Press this week it has been working with an independent neurologist to establish a league-wide concussion policy and return-to-play protocols. A policy could be in place before the start of next season.
Players and former players who spoke with the AP say they would welcome the move after years of head-jarring hits and a feeling among some, like McKie, that they needed to play on.
“They have to,” Milwaukee Bucks center Andrew Bogut said of a formal policy. “It should’ve been done years ago.”
Added Magic coach Stan Van Gundy: “I think it’s a great idea in all the sports.”
“We’re dealing with a very dangerous thing,” the coach said. “The more they’ve learned about concussions, especially the danger of not recovering from concussions before you’re back to activity tells you that every sport has to be very conscious of it.”
Bogut, a former No. 1 pick now in his sixth season, figures he’s had “five to 10” concussions in his pro career, including three after breaking his nose three different times. He said he’d like to see “mandatory” testing in the preseason to establish benchmarks to evaluate when a player is ready to return from a concussion.
Sitting out even without clear symptoms is OK with him.
“Brain injuries are nothing to play with, no matter what,” he said. “If you want to call a guy soft for sitting out with a concussion, you’re an idiot.”
Reigning NBA Rookie of the Year Tyreke Evans missed five games for Sacramento last season after being elbowed in the face and said it was hard to stay out of action.
“That was a situation where at the time I really wanted to play,” Evans said. “Maybe in the long run it was best that I didn’t.”
All-Star Chris Paul sustained the most recent concussion in the NBA when his forehead hit Cavaliers guard Ramon Sessions’ shoulder on Sunday. The Hornets’ guard was taken from the court on the stretcher and the team has hired a neurologist to monitor Paul’s condition. Paul returned to practice on Thursday, but is not yet cleared to play.
Cavaliers coach Byron Scott said he can remember Magic Johnson getting a concussion and the 1987 playoff collision between Pistons teammates Vinnie Johnson and Adrian Dantley that knocked both players out of a game.
Current players say they think the game is less violent than the physical teams of the ’80s and ’90s. But Scott, who doesn’t recall ever having a concussion in his playing days, said today’s players are bigger, stronger and faster — and that the collisions have become more violent.
“It’s a good thing that the league is taking a serious look into concussions because again, we don’t have helmets, this is something probably that should’ve been put in place a while back, but obviously it takes time and when something like this happens, I think the commissioner has done a real good job of jumping on it,” Scott said. “Hopefully we’ll have something in place.”
Timberwolves coach Kurt Rambis, who was known for his scrappy, hard-nosed play during his 14-year career, said that he could’ve had several concussions and had no idea.
“They didn’t test us for anything back then. No MRIs, X-rays. If the bone was sticking out they might say, ‘Yeah, you need an X-ray,'” Rambis said. “There was probably a lot of cases where guys may or may not have, but the diagnostic testing is much more accurate now and there’s much more intensity to getting players checked for everything and anything than there was back then.”
In the NBA, six players have missed games in the past four weeks with concussions or concussion-like symptoms. The injuries, and particularly the incident involving Paul, have gotten the attention of many players.
They say they’re looking to the league to protect them.
“I’m all for it,” Bucks guard John Salmons said. “I was just talking to my wife and saying there’s been a lot of concussions lately in basketball. We’ve had a few on our team, alone, so I think it’s a good thing they’re looking at it.”
Sessions, who didn’t know he was the one who Paul ran into until his shoulder hurt the next day, said he hasn’t been a part of any educational programs geared toward players learning the warning signs of concussions.
Hornets guard Willie Green, though, talked extensively about the materials he received about the dangers of head injuries in both Philadelphia and New Orleans.
“They pass out handbooks that give you ideas or things to do if you symptoms or if you feel nauseous or what have you — if you get a concussion, these are the steps,” Green said. “The doctors and our training staff, they’re going to do a great job and take you through all the tests that you need.”
Currently, the NBA tracks concussions, but leaves it up to teams to determine the guidelines for when a player can return to the court. Wizards coach Flip Saunders said he believes the franchises do everything they can to make sure the players won’t put themselves at risk.
“There’s a policy here even on fevers. If you have a fever over 101.5 or whatever, we don’t let guys with that sort of fever play because of where you can be with heat,” he said. “So whatever they do, anything to protect players from being further hurt, I think everyone in the league’s all for that.”
For Bogut, the contact in the NBA is as serious as any other pro sport given the elbows and lack of head protection. He fears some players feel they must stay in games and keep their symptoms quiet.
“I’ve probably played through something like that when I was a rookie, a bit naive. I wanted to play every game. I’ve gotten to a point where I want to play every game, but it’s stupid to put my body in harm for 10, 15 years down the track. It’s only money,” he said. “If someone’s going to take my spot because I miss time with a concussion and I’m out of the rotation, so be it.”
AP Sports Writers Dan Gelston in Philadelphia, Jon Krawczynski in Minneapolis, Brett Martel in New Orleans, Antonio Gonzalez in Sacramento, Calif. and AP freelance writers Tim Hipps and Daimon Eklund in Washington contributed to this report.