CHICAGO — Jim Barnett got clocked a few times in his six-team, 11-year NBA career, but never harder than when Milwaukee’s Bobby Dandridge intentionally nailed him in the temple with an elbow in a playoff game in the early 1970s. “That was the worst,” Barnett, now a broadcaster for the Golden State Warriors, said recently. “Because I was out. Jon McGlocklin was with the Bucks – I had played with him in San Diego – and I said, ‘Jon, I have no idea where I am.’
“He said, ‘I’ll just throw the ball to Oscar [Robertson] and Lucius Allen.’ And for, like, three possessions up and down the floor, he didn’t try to beat me or anything. Swear to God, in a playoff game.”
Reminded about the incident, McGlocklin smiled and said, “I don’t think I was ever that nice.” But Barnett appreciated his sportsmanship – he was trying to keep what almost certainly was a concussion hidden from Warriors coach Al Attles – and felt even worse once his head cleared: “I started to feel OK and I hit a jump shot [against McGlocklin], and I felt badly about it.”
We might hope that Metta World Peace and James Harden reminisce someday about the ugly, frightening incident Sunday that put Harden out of Oklahoma City’s lineup and left World Peace, the Lakers’ tightly wound forward, awaiting what is expected to be a significant suspension and possibly fine.
Late in the first half of their matinee game at Staples Center, World Peace swung a wild but seemingly well-aimed elbow that slammed into the back of Harden’s head, drawing gasps from those who saw it both in real time and via endless replays ever since. The flagrant-2 foul ended the game for both men — Harden initially tried to return after halftime but was sent back to the locker room, while World Peace was banished for the vicious blow.
Harden, the NBA’s presumptive 2012 Sixth Man Award winner in balloting that barely has begun, is now a participant in the NBA’s new concussion program. He underwent a battery of tests Monday in Oklahoma City and must meet strict protocol before he can be cleared to return for the Thunder.
Under the policy, players diagnosed with concussions must undergo neurological testing and pass a series of exertion tests (treadmill, stationary bicycle, basketball skills), remaining symptom-free afterward. Teams must consult with the director of the league’s program, Dr. Jeffrey Kutcher, before deciding on a return date. Harden is listed as day-to-day for Oklahoma City, which has two regular-season games remaining (home games against Sacramento on Tuesday and Denver on Wednesday).
The Lakers have just one (a date in Sacramento on Thursday), which suggests that World Peace still will be sitting out when his team begins the playoffs with a first-round game this weekend. The league had not announced the penalties, if any, against World Peace by Monday evening, but speculation suggested a suspension of at least two games and perhaps five (and maybe even more) games.
Here’s where the NBA can put some teeth into its discipline and really support the newfound concern about head injuries: Tie World Peace’s suspension to Harden’s recovery time.
The NHL has talked about similar linkage between time lost by players who suffered intentional harm and the punishment meted out to their assailants. And it seems only fair — if OKC has to play “X” number of games without Harden, it doesn’t seem right that the guy who put him out of service might be back first to help his team.
One possibility: A stiff suspension that adjusts up the longer the harmed player is out. For instance, the NBA could impose a suspension of “10 games or the length of Harden’s absence-plus-five games, whichever is longest.” Or five games and plus-three. Something that would make the transgressor and his team feel a greater pinch that the victm and team that got wronged.
Most concussions, this season as well as any, are accidental. A player bangs his head on the court, the way Boston’s Mickeal Pietrus did. Or he catches an inadvertent elbow, the way Minnesota’s Kevin Love did from Denver’s JaVale McGee. But if there is intent – or certainly a deliberate, direct act, a la World Peace’s frantic, overly emotional theatrics (kindest interpretation) after a dunk — and a blow to someone’s head is the result, then a mandatory suspension plus games reflecting the fallen guy’s recovery seems appropriate.
Could a team or a player “game” the system? Probably. If Harden, for instance, were healthy enough to play Tuesday against the Kings but coach Scott Brooks decided to hold him out for normal pre-postseason rest, the ridiculously named World Peace might be sidelined longer.
But y’know what? Tough. He put the wheels in motion. And MWP had more than a few folks wondering again if maybe he wasn’t the one who needed the brain tests.