By Scott Chasen
Steve Carver is a Kansas native who played high school basketball at Shawnee Mission Northwest. In high school, Carver broke his father’s school scoring record. He then went on to play basketball for the College of the Holy Cross, though his time with that program was cut short because of a concussion.
I always knew my basketball career would end someday. I didn’t think, however, I’d be just months into my first season at Holy Cross when it all came crashing down.
I was in practice, scrimmaging under the fluorescent lights of Hart Center. I ran up and down the court, past the purple and white Crusader logo at its midway point. I’d tracked across the tan hardwood flooring tens of times that day and probably thousands more over the last three months.
I’d been running for hours, trying to stay composed and conserve what little energy I had, but as I watched the man I was guarding sprint across the floor ahead of me, I knew I needed an extra burst to catch up.
Josh Jones was a senior big man on our team. I was 6-foot-8 and had an inch or two on him, but he outweighed me by more than 25 pounds. He didn’t play a lot, but he was fairly athletic and strong, though I suppose that doesn’t matter much when the point of his elbow is coming at your skull.
I chased down the court after him, tracking him like a hunter. He stopped short at the free throw line, turning to position himself between my body and the hoop. I tried to stop, but his arm was already flying toward me. I saw it first in my peripheries. I didn’t have time to get out of the way.
I don’t remember the blow. I know his elbow smacked into the side of my head as he swung his arm back. I do remember what happened after.
My eyesight went black. I stumbled forward and then back a step. I never fell to the ground.
My vision started to return, but everything was wrong. My center of gravity rocked back and forth. I could barely stand up straight.
I shifted my eyes. The gym looked fuzzy. I stumbled to the sideline, over to one of the black folding chairs with purple padding that lined the court. The coaches sat me down as I tried to catch my breath.
“What’s your birthday?”
I looked up. Kevin Robinson, an assistant coach, was staring back at me.
He wanted to know if I was coherent enough to answer the question. I was.
“November 19.” Coincidentally two weeks earlier.
But that wasn’t enough. Moments later I was crossing over the logo at center court again, not as part of the scrimmage but on my way out of the gym. The coaches were concerned. I was too.
Looking back, I probably had experienced several concussions before. But this one was different.
The trainers tested my memory, asking me to recall simple words and sentences. I failed horribly. They did it again days later. I failed again.
I wasn’t allowed to sleep through the night. My roommate woke me up every hour to check for brain damage.
And perhaps the worst part, my headache wouldn’t go away. I felt the blood rushing to my head, the throbbing in my temples and sensitivity to light and sound for days. That piercing feeling eventually faded, but for years it kept coming back every other week as if it were required to keep to a schedule.
The corners of my vision would become hazy. When that happened, I knew it was starting. A minute later, everything would look sparkly, like when you rub your eyes too hard and then open them up quickly.
That was my new reality. And when I felt a headache starting, there was nothing I could do but deal with it. I’d feel helpless and then angry, but soon a nagging, excruciating pain replaced that emotion, precluding me from focusing on anything else.
The moment I got elbowed in the head, my basketball career was over. I wasn’t completely sure of it at the time — I stayed with the team for a while after that day — but part of me had a feeling. And even now, with most of the symptoms under control, I still haven’t forgotten that moment.