The NBA is changing fast, and there are many stories these days that something that happened in the 80s feels like ancient history. The era of Magic, Bird, and rookie Jordan is probably the one people most often refer to when they talk about “the good old days”.
The foundation of such comments is the physical nature of the game being played back then. One of the images that captioned that era was the one of Gerald Henderson Sr. playing in a neck brace. His son, Gerald Jr. remembers the story of that photo:
He broke his jaw the night before, and it must have been his first or second year in the league. San Antonio drafted him, and he got cut. He played in the Western League that they had back done. He won the championship and MVP, and the Celtics picked him up. But they could cut you any day, and he wasn’t a star player. So he knew he had to play because the mindset was if you can walk, you can play. So he went out there and played with it. It’s funny what would have happened if that was today. He’d be in concussion protocol, and he would be sitting out for a month. That’s a cool picture, too, because with the neck brace he’s also got his gold chain, too.
Yep, it’s a cool photo. Still, playing with a broken jaw probably wasn’t a good idea. As much as we like to glorify toughness, etc., Henderson’s largest paycheck listed on Basketball Reference is his 85/86 season with the Pistons. He got $350.000 that year. Risking further injury probably wasn’t the smartest strategy.
We lost a lot of fantastic players for playing through injury. If we stay on the Celtics, ask Kevin McHale and Bill Walton about that. Injury protocols may be over the top at times, but when you look at the grand scheme of things, they make sense.