Watching Stephen Curry free fall Monday night, landing on his head on a hardwood floor, was ...
“Terrifying,” Dell Curry said, finishing my thought.
Dell was on the phone from Northern California, where his son, this season’s NBA Most Valuable Player, was scheduled to play Wednesday night in Game 5 of the Golden State Warriors-Houston Rockets playoff series.
I had set up an interview to discuss Dell’s new job with the Charlotte Hornets that will include working with both the business and basketball operations. Quickly our conversation shifted to Stephen’s 6-foot fall while trying to block a layup by Rockets forward Trevor Ariza.
I’ve known Dell, 50, for more than half of his life. I’ve watched his children grow up. This wasn’t so much a reporter-athlete conversation as two parents discussing their worst fears.
“What was so hard was the amount of time it took to get him up,” Dell recalled.
Attempting to block a transition layup, Stephen toppled over Ariza’s shoulder, falling headfirst toward the basketball court. He managed to reach out his left arm, trying to break his fall, but the back of his head took most of the force.
Stephen lay along the baseline motionless. His parents, Dell and Sonya, and his wife, Ayesha, were in the stands in Houston at the Toyota Center, feeling helpless.
You don’t have to have a son in the NBA to relate. I loved watching my son play high school football, but every time someone knocked him to the ground, I felt a little breathless until he stood back up.
Stephen was on the floor a long time and with good reason – you’re very cautious about moving someone with a possible concussion or neck injury. Eventually he returned to his feet and was escorted off the court to get an X-ray and thorough examination.
Dell went to the Warriors’ locker room, finding his son just as he emerged from the X-ray room. Stephen was interacting with doctors and team personnel normally, which was a huge relief.
“I knew right away he was OK,” Dell said. “He had an ice bag on his head, but he was walking and talking like he was fine.”
If you’ve played basketball at any significant level, you know the feeling of having your legs taken out from under you. The same thing happened to Dell, a 16-season NBA veteran. He broke a navicular bone in his wrist attempting to break his fall.
If you’re a Charlottean, you know Stephen Curry’s story: Skinny kid from Davidson becomes a lottery pick, an All-Star and eventually the MVP. You don’t accomplish all that at 6-foot-3 and 185 pounds without exceptional mental and physical toughness.
“I told myself, ‘He’s going to go back in this game,’” Dell said.
Dell cautioned doctors Stephen would be adamant that he could return to the game. They assured him they knew how competitive Stephen is and they wouldn’t let him return unless certain he wouldn’t endanger himself.
The NBA has a strict protocol to guard against players playing with a concussion. Stephen did wind sprints up and down Toyota Center hallways to convince the doctors he had no such symptoms. He made his case and was cleared to play.
While the initial concern was a head injury, Stephen complained of some pain in his right elbow. By the time he returned home to the Bay Area on Tuesday night, he was gently tossing Riley, his 2-year-old daughter, in the air to entertain her.
“Guess the elbow’s OK,” Dell told his son, and they shared a relieved laugh.
Bonnell: 704-358-5129; @rick_bonnell