Chris Kaman wasn’t exactly enjoying an All-Star year for the Dallas Mavericks, and the team wasn’t playing exceptionally well when he went down with a concussion on Jan. 29. Still, the team would like its center back on the court as they make a desperate bid for the playoffs (or, at least, a .500 record and trip to the old-timey barber). Happily for those who worry about such things, though, the team and the NBA are going out of their way to make sure Kaman is fully healthy and ready to play after suffering a friggin’ brain injury.
Kaman, an athlete that wants to compete, is slowly coming around to this recognition. To the idea that his team (which could deal him in a week or decline to re-sign him in July) is thinking of his long term interests in spite of the short term gains they would receive by having the talented 7-footer play. Though Kaman has passed the NBA’s tests to return to action, according to Tim McMahon of ESPN Dallas, his honesty about recurring headaches and the Mavs’ coaching staff’s transparency are keeping him off the practice court.
And though we like watching Kaman play, this is the right move. From McMahon:
Kaman recently referred to the cognitive testing, part of the NBA's concussion protocol instituted before last season, as "the stupidest test ever."
"For so many years in the NBA, they never had to do that stuff, and now they come up with all that concussion protocol crap," Kaman said before passing the test last week. "It's not cool, but it is cool, I guess. It keeps people safe."
You can see Kaman turning a corner just in the midst of this quote. First it’s crap, then it’s not cool, then it’s cool. He guesses. And it keeps people safe.
Which is the coolest and least-crappiest thing around, Chris.
Rick Carlisle proudly holds up Chris Kaman's passed test (Getty Images)This isn’t to go after the big man. It’s not Kaman’s job to turn the corner, or decide what’s best for him because “an athlete knows his body.” It’s up to the league, the team, and the personnel the team employs to do what’s best long term for an athlete – be having the strength of character to sit a player suffering from a rest-recovery injury, or looking out for a player’s mental health some decades down the road. The Mavs and the NBA are completely correct in this slow approach, and we also applaud Chris for being honest with the team about his headaches.
(Also, let’s not devolve into some sort of pissing match between NFL concussions and NBA concussions. Concussions occur when the brain is hit so hard it shakes within the skull. How it happens is immaterial and the fallout is the same.)
The fallout for utilizing patience with Kaman could be costly to the Mavs, which is why the team’s move is all the more admirable. It’s true that Kaman was demoted as starter and played just over 23 minutes combined in his two contests prior to his concussion. Still, the team’s rotation could use his gifts as they attempt to put together the 22-9 (or so, projected) mark it would take to rally and grab the last playoff spot in the West.
And should the team give in to its poor playoff odds, a former All-Star at an important position like Kaman would be a prime suspect to move before the Feb. 21 trade deadline – especially when you consider Chris’ expiring contract. A contributor and minutes-sopper at center is an important thing for any would-be contender looking to go over the top, and the Mavs are willingly putting Kaman’s health ahead of valuable trade showcase time.
Once again, credit Kaman for not only being open about his headaches, but the slow realization that all this patience is how things are going to have to work in sports as we make our way through the ever-increasing spate of head injuries, and building awareness of how damaging they can be.