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T.J. Ford -- On a Stretcher Again

UPDATE: Reports are that T.J. Ford is out of the hospital and on his way home.

You have probably already seen the play, in which Raptor guard T.J. Ford -- who missed an entire season a couple of years ago after a spinal injury -- hit the deck hard after a foul by Atlanta rookie Al Horford.

Ford is was immobilized and carried off the court on a stretcher.

ESPN's John Hollinger reports:

Teammate Anthony Parker was the first one to reach Ford. "I just said 'Lay back, don't move,' because it seemed he was kind of on his side. It seemed like he was panicking a little bit, and started breathing hard," said Parker, who began waving for the medical staff to come over almost immediately.

After a lengthy delay, Ford was immobilized and taken off the floor strapped to a board on a stretcher, an eerie reminder of the injury that he suffered earlier in his career that caused him to miss the entire 2004-05 season when he was with the Bucks.

On a positive note, Ford's teammates said they saw him moving before he was taken off, something Raptors spokesman Jim LaBumbard confirmed.

Ford was taken to Atlanta's Piedmont Hospital. Meanwhile his teammates had to leave him and fly back to Toronto for Wednesday's game against Dallas. Director of Baskeball Operations Marc Eversley and assistant trainer Rory Mullin stayed behind to be with Ford, who was expected to stay overnight at the hospital.

Ford is especially vulnerable to hits like this because he suffers from a congenital condition called spinal stenosis, a narrowing of the spinal column. That's why the hit on Feb. 24, 2004, when he crashed into Minnesota's Mark Madsen, was so damaging -- he ended up with a bruised spinal cord and underwent surgery that May which fused two vertebrae in his neck.

An ESPN.com News Services story adds:

Former NBA player, coach and Ford workout coach John Lucas told ESPN.com that he spoke with Ford's girlfriend, Candace Dixon, Tuesday night and that she told Lucas that Ford had feeling in his arms and legs and did have range of motion. Lucas said Dixon told him they were awaiting results of a CAT scan and that Ford didn't lose consciousness.

Michael Grange of Canada's Globe and Mail was watching on TV, where he had the misfortune of seeing everything frame by frame:

If you look at it carefully it's apparent that Ford was out, or at least in some way compromised, before his head ever hit that floor in Atlanta.

Horford's hand comes down on Ford's head and pulls it back, compressing the neck with considerable force. An instant later Ford's body is still in the air but it's changed in attitude. He's slumping. He's got no sense of where he is. He makes no effort to adjust his fall or break it by reaching back with his arms.

Then, as we have likely all seen by now, Ford hits the deck. Hard. Grange then documents that this kind of incident is all too common for Ford:

The summer before Ford was to enter the University of Texas he had another scary moment when he hit the floor and didn't get up. He was diagnosed with spinal stenosis, which, put simply, is abnormal narrowing of the openings of the vertebra through which the spinal cord runs.

Surgery was considered and but eventually ruled out and Ford enjoyed two stellar seasons at the University of Texas without incident.

But it is that condition -- which is congenital -- that informs all his problems since. When Ford gets hit or falls in an unusual way it puts pressure on his spinal cord in a way not experienced by other people. End of story.

And it would be the end of the story except that Ford keeps playing; keeps taking shots, and keeps experience numbness in various parts of his body.

-- In the spring of his sophomore year, after he had declared for the NBA draft and signed with an agent, Ford was playing pick-up at Texas and had another scary moment. He was slapped across the neck, hit the floor and didn't move for the entire hour it took for an ambulance to arrive and remove him.

-- After the Bucks drafted him No.8 overall in 2003 Ford was exceeding expectations when he collided hard with Mark Madsen of the Minnesota Timberwolves and didn't get up. He landed on his tailbone, but the jarring fall caused a whip-lash effect severe enough that he bruised his spinal cord. He was out of basketball for a year-and-a-half.

-- Ford was incident-free for his last season in Milwaukee and his first year in Toronto until he was slammed to floor after getting tangled up with Vince Carter in Game 5 during the playoffs last season. He was diagnosed with a stinger -- basically an irritation of the nerves that emanate from his neck and run across his shoulders and down his arms.

-- He suffered another stinger just two weeks ago in Dallas after Josh Howard hit him in the chest, and missed five games.

While we are all so used to athletes getting hurt, and then making recoveries and getting back on the court. Grange is anxious to stop seeing Ford -- the doting father of a toddler -- carried off on a stretcher so often. Hard to argue that one, but surely the only way to make certain that doesn't happen again is for Ford to retire, which is no picnic either.

My thoughts are with T.J. Ford and his family, for sure.

A Note About Al Horford
What's not most important right now is the guy who hit Ford in the head. But as long as this incident is the topic, let's take a moment to discuss Horford. I don't know what he was thinking at the moment of the incident, but I have met Al Horford -- who was called for a flagrant foul and ejected on the play. Over the last six months I have talked to plenty of people who know Horford. Sekou Smith of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution knows him and echoes what everybody I have talked to thinks about the rookie: he's a guy who plays extremely hard, but not the kind of guy who would intentionally hit or injure T.J. Ford in the head. (Despite Sam Mitchell's initial reaction, that's essentially what Raptor players have told reporters they believe happened, too.)

If I've learned nothing else about Al Horford the past six months, it's that he's a class act. That was clear the first day I met him and it was never more clear than last night, after his hard fouls sent Toronto point guard T.J. Ford crashing to the floor late in the Hawks' loss to the Raptors at Philips Arena.

I'll be the first person to sound off in defense of this guy, because long before everyone else had vacated the premises Tuesday night, Horford made his way to Piedmont Hospital to check on Ford, who remained under observation overnight but reportedly had movement in all of his extremities.

Horford was one of several people affiliated with the Hawks to go directly to the hospital to check on Ford - Dominique Wilkins and Josh Smith's father Pete S
mith were there, too - and make sure he knew that what happened was purely accidental.

Horford, I'm told, waited quite a while for Ford to get done with tests just to make sure he got the chance to speak with him personally. And when told that Horford came to check on him and wanted to speak with him, Ford let it be known that he knew Horford's lick wasn't intentional and that he welcomed Horford to stop by and visit.

None of that will make it on the highlight shows. But it's just an example of the class shown by all involved.