Just more than 13 years ago, with his Oklahoma Sooners playing in the regional semifinals of the NCAA tournament, forward Eduardo Najera set a blind screen on Michigan State guard Mateen Cleaves that resulted in a scary collision that knocked Najera completely out with a concussion. In a move that thankfully wouldn't be replicated today, Najera returned to the contest 14 minutes later, to the great delight of applauding Sooner fans willing to look past the degree of danger he was putting himself in by playing so soon after a concussion. Even just 13 years ago, those were different times.
Now a Charlotte Bobcat, Najera recently suffered a less visually frightening but potentially more dangerous injury on the court. On Friday night, Eduardo took an inadvertent elbow from Milwaukee Bucks big man John Brockman that can be seen at the 17-second mark of this video. It won't make you as squeamish as the clip from his NCAA days, but the impact is decidedly more severe, even if Najera stayed on his feet:
As a result of the elbow, Najera suffered a fractured skull, which is just about as scary as it sounds. And, on Saturday afternoon, Yahoo! Sports' Marc J. Spears reported that Najera will miss the Bobcats' final 13 games of the 2011-12 season, following surgery to replace that fractured frontal bone.
Sadly, this could mark the end of Najera's career. Not so much because the effects of both head injuries aren't lasting -- they no doubt are -- but because Najera was more or less playing out the string with the Bobcats in the final year of his contract. As a 36-year-old free agent this summer, teams are likely going to pass on Najera, despite his athletic play and obvious hustle. He has shot well under 40 percent from the floor during his last two seasons, and yet doesn't rebound well enough at the power forward position to make up for his lack of offensive polish.
It's been a remarkable career, though, for the 12-year veteran. Drafted into the NBA at the relatively advanced age of 24, Najera has built a sound career out of screen setting and the occasional athletic flourish. The Mexico-born Najera wasn't the first player of Mexican descent to play in the NBA, but he was certainly its most prominent -- with the high point likely coming in 2003, when Najera averaged 6.7 points and 4.6 rebounds for a Dallas Mavericks team that made the Western Conference finals.
A team might take a chance, though, during the offseason. And though it's unfortunate that his career has been bookended by these two scary collisions, Najera has come through with quite the run.
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