- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 8, 2011

MILWAUKEE (AP) - The NBA is consulting with an independent neurologist and may establish a league-wide policy for handling concussions by next season, The Associated Press has learned.

NBA spokesman Tim Frank confirmed the discussions Tuesday.

“The NBA Team Physicians Society has been studying the issue of concussion management for several years and each team follows its own treatment and return-to-play protocols,” he said. “In addition, the league is working with a consulting neurologist concerning the possible adoption of a league-wide protocol.”

The move would bring the NBA more in line with both the NHL and the NFL. In just the last four weeks, six NBA players have missed games because of concussions or concussion-like symptoms.

Most recently, New Orleans point guard Chris Paul was taken off the floor on a stretcher on Sunday night after diving and hitting his forehead on Cleveland guard Ramon Sessions’ right shoulder. He was diagnosed with a concussion.

“Concussions are something that I don’t think we really realize how serious they are because they’re kind of rare in our game. They happen more often in football, hockey, other sports like that,” said Bucks guard Keyon Dooling, a vice president of the NBA players’ union executive committee along with Paul.

“Our brain is our most powerful muscle, and if you’ve got anything off-kilter with that, it can be problematic,” Dooling said recently.

The NBA and the players’ union say they are tracking the number of head hits. Frank declined to name the neurologist involved with the league, but said they’ve been working on the issue extensively this season.

Basketball doesn’t draw the same level of concern as in other sports such as hockey and football because there aren’t as many violent head hits and fewer concussions.

“They seem to be really rare, but I did have one as a player,” Pistons president Joe Dumars said. “I can’t recall any of our guys over the years getting a concussion, but if it was to come up, we would absolutely exercise caution.”

Hornets coach Monty Williams is dealing with Paul’s injury after two of his own as a player while Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro believes the league has to balance player safety with how the game is played.

“They’re trying to do different things with rules in terms of respect of the game and flagrant fouls and things to protect guys,” Del Negro said. “There’s a fine line there. The game is an instinct game. You want to react.

“There’s going to be physical contact, it’s part of it. There’s going to be collisions in the air and depending on how guys land and how vicious they are, you want to protect that.”

Players on Tuesday night said they would embrace a league-wide initiative in the interest of their safety.

“Whatever they implement, I’m all for it,” Sixers forward Elton Brand said. “Guys want to play as much as we can in this league. We might not know the hazards and problems that can come with something like that.”

While the league has been working on policy, including a lengthy medical meeting during the All-Star break, Atlanta’s Al Horford believes Paul’s injury will have a bigger effect on players’ views of concussions now.

“That opened a lot of people’s eyes,” he said.

Horford’s teammate, Jamal Crawford, said players often can’t think in their own best interests.

“As athletes, you want to be out there. Your competitive nature takes over. You don’t want to come out of the game. So sometimes you need somebody who knows more about it to step in and say, ‘No, you’re not,’” Crawford said. “That doesn’t need to be (the player’s) call, because it can have long-term effects.”

The NFL and NHL bolstered their rules against improper hits and Major League Baseball has looked into creating a seven-day disabled list specifically for concussions as steps to limit and better diagnose head injuries. Even so, major stars of each sport have missed significant time this season or last because of concussions.

Penguins center Sidney Crosby has been out since Jan. 6, Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers missed a game after sustaining two concussions and Twins first baseman Justin Morneau, the 2006 AL MVP, took part in a spring training “B” game on Tuesday _ the first time he’s played since a concussion sidelined him in July.

According to STATS LLC data reviewed by the AP, eight NBA players have missed games this season because of head injuries, concussions or concussion-like symptoms and there’s been an average of nine players per season who’ve missed playing time over the previous five years.

Besides Paul, Miami’s Mike Miller, San Antonio’s Gary Neal, Phoenix’s Vince Carter and New Jersey’s Anthony Morrow and Damion James all have dealt with blows to the head since Feb. 15.

The actual numbers could be higher.

For example, the Milwaukee Bucks have had four players with concussions or concussion-like symptoms alone, yet only Ersan Ilyasova was on the eight-player list.

Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, who told the AP last month that there needed to be a league-wide policy, didn’t miss a game with his concussion. Carlos Delfino’s initial diagnosis was a neck strain before he began having lingering symptoms, while Corey Maggette missed two games.

Ilyasova’s injury was immediately ruled a concussion after he collided with Jon Brockman in practice two weeks ago, and there’s no timetable for his return.

Phoenix’s Channing Frye slammed heads with Carter in the third quarter of a loss to Boston last week. The Suns said after the game Frye had a bruised eye and Carter had a cut on his mouth. Carter missed one game because of dizziness, but Frye had one of his best games of the season two nights later in Milwaukee.

“Getting conked on the head was kind of like a reality _ at any moment, this can all be taken away,” Frye said after that game. “Anything messing with your head is serious.”


AP Sports Writers Cliff Brunt in Indianapolis, Andrew Seligman in Chicago, Larry Lage in Detroit and Jon Krawczynski in Minneapolis and AP freelance writer Amy Jinkner-Lloyd in Atlanta contributed to this report.

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