Tough Love

Steve McPherson —  February 5, 2014 — 2 Comments

Kevin Love had a pretty nasty spill last night against the Lakers with about 4 minutes to go in the fourth. Here’s a video of it and if you don’t enjoy the sound of the human body making hard contact with unyielding surfaces, you might want to mute your computer speakers right about now:

After spending a few moments collecting himself on the ground, Love got up and walked back to the bench under his own power and stayed in the game, prompting a firestorm of responses both immediate and delayed. Let’s start with the delayed ones, as relayed by the Wolves’ PR account on Twitter after the game.

From Love himself:

Love: “No concussion concerns. I was more worried about G.” #Twolves

— Timberwolves PR (@Twolves_PR) February 5, 2014

Love joked: “What worried me the most was Gregg Farnam (#Twolves head athletic trainer) was 2 inches from my face. I feel bad for his wife.”

— Timberwolves PR (@Twolves_PR) February 5, 2014

Love: “I took a beating but you have to expect that. You get knocked down and you get back up.” #Twolves

— Timberwolves PR (@Twolves_PR) February 5, 2014

And from Rick Adelman:

Adelman on Love: “He works his tail off. As long as he said he could go the last three mins (I was going to play him). #Twolves

— Timberwolves PR (@Twolves_PR) February 5, 2014

The tone of both Love’s and Adelman’s responses to the incident typify the happy warrior mentality that runs through sports, and I say that without judgment. Sports is physical work, and in doing that work, you’re going to take knocks and it’s true that getting back up again is a test of mettle — maybe particularly for a player who’s often labeled a complainer or as a hard worker in some ways (on the boards) and not in others (on defense).

Where it gets interesting is in the public response, where opinion seemed to divide pretty quickly into two camps who both couldn’t believe that Love was still in the game, but for different reasons.

This is where the ethos of toughness in sports gets thorny. I wrote about this for TrueHoop last year after a presentation at the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference, but to boil it down, one of the main problems with dealing with concussions by self-diagnosis is that the potentially injured organ is the one making the decision about whether it’s injured or not. After the game, our own Zach Harper tweeted out:

Love said he did hit his head but there wasn’t any concussion concern then. So there’s that.

— Zach Harper (@talkhoops) February 5, 2014

But Love shouldn’t be the one making that determination. Now perhaps trainer Gregg Farnam checked him out, followed the concussion protocol and he was the one who said there was no concussion concern. That’s certainly adhering to the NBA’s guidelines for concussions (although that document doesn’t go into specifics about who makes that determination). You could also point to the fact that the Wolves were up nine at that moment in a game they eventually won by ten, and that following the incident and his two free throws resulting from that play, Love scored just one point and grabbed two rebounds. You can legitimately question whether — concussion or not — it might not have been time to pull Love just out of caution.

But I can also understand the mentality that says — in the moment — if Love comes out when he could play and they somehow let the game slip away (which is the kind of thing that’s happened to this Wolves team before), the clamor about Love’s commitment to the game, to the team, to winning, to Minnesota — all of it — goes up another notch.

It’s possible there’s still more to this story to come out — that Love may end up being diagnosed with a concussion and that he’s held out of tonight’s game against Oklahoma City. Or it might all be nothing. This specific incident can’t show anything definitively one way or the other about the issue of brain injuries and how they’re treated in basketball or in sports in general.

But it’s another chance to open up the debate about the balance (and I do mean balance) that has to be struck between learning the very valuable lesson of having to of having to push through adversity and an understanding that sometimes that pushing through is dangerous in ways we can’t adequately assess in the moment. Fiction — whether literary or cinematic — is littered with heroes who overcome overwhelming odds and grievous bodily harm to achieve greatness. But when the last page is turned or the credits roll, they disappear; they don’t have to live with the consequences of their actions, with the lessons their stories teach.

We do.

Steve McPherson

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2 responses to Tough Love

  1. My initial thought was “why is Love still in the game? Adelman needs to take him out because Love will always push through.” Also don’t forget that he took a tough slam only a few series before that left him in the cobwebs. He really took a beating last night, but these wolves need to prove they can win without him in order to take him out. Nice job, Kevin. And great post Steve!

  2. The thought running through my head was, “if this game was over like it should’ve been after 3, this wouldn’t have happened.” It was such a weird and ugly game, from the offense’s inability to adjust to the way the game was being called (apparently they made holding off the ball and hand-checking with both hands legal for the second half for the Lakers) and the defense’s inability to protect the paint or run the Lakers off the arc.

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