The haunting pictures of
This is why Ford, at 5-foot-10 and 165 pounds, is one of the NBA's most courageous players. He was born with spinal stenosis, a narrowing of the spinal canal that can put pressure on the nerve and spinal cord, and cause tingling and numbness in the arms and legs.
Earlier in his career, he had lost feeling in his extremities after four different collisions on the basketball court dating back to Willowridge High School in Sugar Land, Texas. In May 2004, he underwent surgery to fuse two vertebrae in his neck where the narrowing of his spinal column was the most severe. Ford was told after the surgery that he was no longer at greater risk of paralysis than any other player. That confidence vanishes during an incident like the one Tuesday in Atlanta, which was preceded by stingers -- aggravations of the nerves in his arms -- that sidelined Ford at the end of last season as well as earlier this month.
Yet he insisted during a visit to the Raptors' locker room Wednesday, shortly after his release from the hospital in Atlanta, that he considers himself neither reckless nor brave for continuing to play. This is consistent with his statements two years ago, when he said he would retire from basketball if he thought he was risking severe injury.
"I wouldn't want to walk away -- but I could,'' Ford told me during an interview for a
A three-inch scar runs along the back of Ford's neck. "I know what it feels like to almost play my last game,'' he said two years ago. "No one knows how long we're going to live. You live every day to the best of your ability and enjoy your life because once it's over, it's over.''
Though Ford won the Naismith and Wooden player of the year awards as a sophomore at Texas, some teams refused to draft him because of his spinal condition. But other teams cleared him to play. Before the Bucks took Ford with the No. 8 pick in 2003, according to general manager
"He kept saying he couldn't feel his legs, his fingers, anything,'' said Ivey, now a backup guard with the Bucks. "He was paranoid and scared, and I was telling him to calm down, it was going to be all right.''
At that time, Ford was more worried about his career than his health. "I had just signed with my agent, so no way I can go back to school,'' Ford said. "I thought, 'Now my dream is over. No one is going to draft me.' ''
Ford regained feeling within 20 minutes and made a complete recovery within a month.
I recall these memories to emphasize Ford's bravery each time he vaults himself into the paint, juking the ball away from giants who often clobber him instead. Raptors president
Yet the move during his rookie year that sidelined him for the ensuing 2004-05 season seemed harmless: a mid-air collision with 6-9, 236-pound
"I remember going to the hospital that night and thinking it was unbelievable that two hours ago he's running up and down the floor,'' Harris said. "Now here he is in an MRI machine, and I'm thinking that he may never play again.''
Ford plans to wait at least a week before he resumes practicing with the Raptors, who acquired him from Milwaukee for
"I want to be a great player,'' he said two years ago. "That's what drives me, to continue to leave a legacy. In high school, I have a legacy as far as the team we had, and then building on that by going to the University of Texas and leaving a legacy there. I don't want my legacy to stop.''