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NBA Policy on Concussions

League rules determine when players can return to the court after a concussion


Kobe Bryant, Los Angeles Lakers

Kobe Bryant sustained a concussion during the 2012 NBA All-Star Game, but was able to return without missing any regular-season games.

Getty Images Sport / Ronald Martinez
Updated April 26, 2012
NBA policy prohibits any player that suffers a concussion from returning to the court until he passes a series of tests. The protocol was implemented starting with the 2011-12 season.

The NBA Concussion Protocol

Before the season begins, every NBA player must take a complete neurocognitive exam, the results of which become that player's baseline score. If that player sustains a head injury during the season or exhibits symptoms often related to a concussion - headaches, nausea, etc. - he must re-take the test and get a score equal to or surpassing his "injury-free" baseline.

He must also stay symptom-free during exertion tests - typically, riding a stationary bike or running on a treadmill - before returning to the court.

Major Tests for the New Protocol

It wouldn't be long before the new system was put to the test. During the 2012 NBA All-Star Game, Kobe Bryant of the Lakers suffered a broken nose and concussion, courtesy of a hard foul by Miami's Dwyane Wade. Bryant passed the neurocognitive examination and was able to take the floor with his teammates when the season resumed after the break.

Kevin Love suffered a concussion on April 11th, taking an elbow to the head during the Timberwolves' game against the Nuggets. He passed the neurological exam and was cleared to play as of April 22nd, but the team has opted to play it safe and shut down their franchise player for what's left of the regular season.

At least the elbow that ended Love's season was inadvertent. James Harden suffered a concussion on April 21st when Metta World Peace - the player formerly known as Ron Artest - threw an elbow that certainly appeared to be intentional. Harden missed the Thunder's last several games of the season, but the team is optimistic that he'll be able to return for the playoffs. World Peace was suspended for seven games for the hit, a suspension that will carry over into the postseason and, if the Lakers are eliminated quickly, the early part of the 2012-13 season.

How Common are Concussions?

Concussions are not as common in the NBA as in sports where high-speed collisions are a normal part of game play, football and hockey, for example. The fact that there are fewer players on the floor at one time (10, as opposed to 22 in an NFL game) and on the roster (12 on an NBA active roster, as opposed to an NFL active roster of 46).

That said, it is difficult to get a clear count on the number of concussions sustained by NBA players in a given year, because injuries are not necessarily reported with that level of detail. Theconcussionblog.com estimates the number at 16 for the 2011-12 season and 12 for the 2010-11 season.

Another factor: even today, some athletes seem to have the attitude that concussions are a sign of weakness. LeBron James collided with Grant Hill in a game against the Suns in March. Afterwards, reporters asked him if he had ever had a concussion... James responded by saying, "I'm too tough."

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