No one has any idea how long James Harden will be out.
The Thunder issued a statement Monday evening that the super sub has continued to undergo concussion testing, that he has more steps that must be taken before he's cleared and that he will be further evaluated Tuesday. But after he took the elbow heard ‘round the world from Ron Artest — the Lakers forward doesn't deserve to be called Metta World Peace after what went down Sunday — Harden's return is anyone's guess.
So it goes with brain injuries.
That's what we're talking about here. Oh, the medical term for what Harden is suffering from is a concussion. It's a word that we've become well-acquainted with in the sports world. Unfortunately, concussions are killing athletes, sometimes in an unexpected instant but more often in a slow, painful existence.
Concussions are awful, horrible beasts.
And yet, we've somehow become desensitized to the word concussion. It doesn't alarm us. It doesn't faze us.
So, let's call it what it is — a brain injury.
Doesn't seem nearly so innocuous, does it?
Harden has a brain injury. The impact of a meaty, maniacal dude smashing his elbow into the soft spot just behind Harden's ear jarred his brain, banging it around his skull and bruising it who knows where.
Sounds scary because it is.
These types of brain injuries have caused sports at every level to take stock of their athletes. Youth leagues. College teams. Professional ranks. Everyone is trying to make their game safer.
Most notable in that movement is the NFL. In the past couple years, it has taken an extremely hard line on potential concussion-causing hits; it has seen too many former players developing all sorts of mental illnesses. Dementia and Alzheimer's top the list.
But the NFL isn't the only one taking action.
The NBA adopted a concussion management program this past December. (Hey, just because the basketball is non-tackling doesn't mean it's non-contact.) This is the league's attempt to standardize the steps a player must take in order to return to the court after a concussion.
There are neurological tests and exertion tests. A player has to ride a stationary bike, then jog, then do a battery basketball drills. After each activity, he has to remain symptom free.
No headaches. No dizziness. No side effects of any kind.
If that doesn't happen at any stage along the way, he has to go back to the first test and start all over again.
It's a little like getting to the end of Chutes and Ladders, then hitting that big slide that sends you back to the beginning. (Didn't you hate it when that happened?) And yet, it's all done in the best interest of the player.
The truth is, after all, concussions are never going to be eliminated. They are going to happen.
But they can be treated.
“This injury is not something that goes on to lead to long-lasting problems if it's managed well,” said Micky Collins, who should know.
Collins is a founding member of University of Pittsburgh Medical Center's Sports Concussion Program and one of the leading experts on these brain injuries. He has researched for decades and seen more than 3,000 cases a year over the course of his career.
This man knows concussions.
Collins himself has seen lots of people who are messed up by concussions, who don't have the injury managed well, who do have long-lasting effects.
“People think that this is the boogie man,” he said. “There is a lot of hysteria around this injury right now, and rightfully so.
“However, in athletes that are managed well … we can hit the reset button on a great majority,” he said. “It's an injury that can be managed.”
But the thing is, far too often, we hear that someone has a concussion and we think it'll only be few days before they're back. Sometimes, that's the case; Kobe Bryant didn't miss a game after taking a nose-busting, concussion-causing elbow from Dwyane Wade during the All-Star Game. But sometimes, weeks and even months go by before their brain has healed.
Remember when Blake Griffin was at Oklahoma and missed a week with a concussion? No one could even figure out how he suffered the injury. Texas coach Rick Barnes eventually saw an inadvertent elbow to the ear while watching film, but it seemed minor compared to what Big Blake had endured. Still, it was bad enough to sideline him for a week.
You just don't know about these brain injuries.
That's why it's impossible to know about Harden.
Will he be back in uniform Tuesday night for the Thunder's game against the Kings? Or will it be Wednesday against the Nuggets? Or will it be when the playoffs start this weekend? Or will it be a week or a month?
We have no way of knowing.
But what we do know is that Harden has a brain injury. Every last one of them has to be treated properly. Every last one of them has to be taken seriously.
There are far too many horror stories about the ones that weren't.