Ja Morant on crowded baseline area: ‘I just think player safety should be first and foremost’

SAN FRANCISCO — Ja Morant, the Memphis Grizzlies’ sensational rookie, made his return Monday night against the Golden State Warriors after missing four games with back spasms stemming from a collision two weeks ago with a cameraman along the baseline.

Morant, the Rookie of the Year favorite, led his team to a 110-102 victory and finished with a game-high 26 points and seven assists. The explosive guard even had a few thunderous dunks and a two-handed rim-rattler in traffic that put the Grizzlies up eight with a minute left to seal the win.

Following the contest, Morant acknowledged that instead of solely focusing on being the best version of himself, he occasionally found himself thinking about the proximity of camera operators while driving in the paint.

Memphis Grizzlies guard Ja Morant (12) goes up for a shot in the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Los Angeles Clippers Wednesday, Nov. 27, 2019, in Memphis, Tenn. (AP Photo/Brandon Dill)
Ja Morant's game is about attacking the basket. (AP Photo/Brandon Dill)

“It’s tough because I know I just have to do more controlled jumps now,” Morant told Yahoo Sports. “But at the same time, I’m just trying not to think about it and still try to play my game. It’s just a tough situation all the way around, honestly.”

When Morant first sustained the injury, he tweeted about the topic:

He hasn’t wavered from that stance.

"They probably can get a [good] video from the parking lot with those cameras, man,” he told Yahoo Sports.

“I just think player safety should be first and foremost. How I play and where I end up, [cameramen] are right there. Personally, I like to attack the rack, and I feel like that injury came from me attacking the rack and it was just nowhere to land for me.”

Warriors coach Steve Kerr weighed in on the topic before the game.

“I worry about that, the proximity of the camera people and the vulnerability of sitting underneath the basket with a lot of contact over there, bodies falling, they’re holding a big camera,” he said. “It feels like a lot of things could go wrong. So, I do worry about that. I’m not sure what needs to happen, but I would think the league, especially if players are getting injured, would be considering their options.”

In 2014, the NBA mandated teams to add an additional foot of space on both sides of the basket stanchion, expanding the area to four feet in length, and the league decreased the number of cameramen from 40 to 20.

But the baseline is still a crowded area. With the speed and athleticism of today’s players, such collisions are still bound to occur from time to time.

“When it happened, my back just kind of locked up and it started feeling tight and like a spasm,” Morant told Yahoo Sports. “It was just tough for me to move. And then it caused me to not be able to go out there and play with my teammates. I feel like everybody who knows me, knows I like to compete and do whatever I can. Just sitting out there knowing I couldn’t be out there with them really hurt. And it was the way I got hurt that was disappointing.”

Memphis (7-16) went 1-3 in Morant’s absence.

“It was a positive and a negative for me not being able to play,” Morant told Yahoo Sports. “I got to learn my teammates even more on how they like to play, and then I was able to see what really we’re capable of.”

Morant doesn’t plan to talk to the league anytime soon on the matter of baseline space, but when he does, he’ll express his concerns about player safety and seek to gather a better understanding of camera placement.

But he also wanted to make it clear that he doesn’t have anything against the league’s camera operators.

“It’s just a tough situation, honestly,” Morant told Yahoo Sports. “We need our camera people out there. They get good footage, good pictures for us and I know it’s their job. But it’s just tough. I don’t know what to say or how it needs to go. I feel like the NBA will handle it.”

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