Swanson: Lakers’ Anthony Davis deserves more respect

“Concussion!?” Stephen A. Smith screeched on ESPN’s “First Take” on Thursday morning, his most incredulous level of falsetto threatening eardrums across the nation. “I thought the NFL season was over.”

Wait, what?

“I understand that concussions can happen in other sports – boxing, UFC. I mean, if the collision is fierce enough, I guess it could happen in basketball too but damn, I ain’t see nothing yesterday that made me say concussion!”

What even – what?

“Was he running over the middle and got hit by Ronnie Lott or something? Did I miss something? Did he get hit by Aaron Donald? Did I miss something?!”

Did Smith miss 7-foot strongman Kevon Looney swinging his substantial forearm into Anthony Davis’ head on Wednesday night, during Game 5 of the Lakers-Golden State Warriors second-round playoff series? Knocking him off kilter and sending him to the bench, and then into the tunnel, dazed and listing to one side?

“Damnit, I’d be damned if I wasn’t laughing.”

Oh, no. Let me back away from this keyboard.

… actually, no. Let’s write.

The notion that Davis might have a concussion – it was unclear Thursday morning, when Smith was ranting, whether he did – is so laugh-out-loud funny because … why?

Because it’s A.D.?

The Rodney Dangerfield of NBA champions?

The league’s best defender whose name was omitted from the NBA’s first and second All-Defensive teams, and who got only nine second-team votes? Even though he was tied for second among centers with 9.1 defensive rebounds per game and third with 1.1 steals and – this is key – played more minutes (1,904) this season than Memphis’ Jaren Jackson Jr. (1,787), your 2022-23 Defensive Player of the Year?

The Lakers’ 30-year-old center who has been made out, by the talking heads dictating the national narrative, as something of a wimp? Or, at best, a 6-foot-10 tall drink of water served in your grandma’s fanciest and most fragile porcelain glass?

That’s the reputation, right? According to some non-doctors on Twitter, he’s “a known dramatic crybaby,” and a “glass giraffe,” not the player who’s fighting through a right foot injury this postseason – and who nonetheless has been one of the most impactful performers in any series.

His swarming, stifling, spectacular defense – I know, defense, invisible to those with rocks for brains – has helped lift the Lakers within a game of the Western Conference finals. He’s averaging 13.5 rebounds and 3.5 blocked shots per game!

Davis’ scoring, which yes, has come in spurts, averages out to 21.5 points per game – more than any big man in the playoffs besides Nikola Jokic (30.6) and Joel Embiid (24.6). And just one point less per game than LeBron James is averaging.

But you’d think, the way Shaquille O’Neal and Charles Barkley fell into a giggling fit Wednesday night on TNT’s “Inside the NBA” after the Lakers’ 121-106 Game 5 loss, that A.D. is a joke.

That he’s some scrub and not one of the NBA’s Top 75 players ever. That he isn’t the fellow who had the fortitude in 2020 to finish the job in the confines – friendly to no one – of a bubble far from home. He hit huge shots, remember, and averaged 27.7 points and 9.7 rebounds during the Lakers’ run to a 17th championship.

Yeah, but…

I can hear you out there, you don’t have to yell: a.D. Is INjury pRONe!

Did you know that Davis, in the four seasons since he joined the Lakers, has played more games (194) than Steph Curry (188) in that span? That they both played 56 games this season?

Now imagine the tenor of the conversation if it had been Curry who’d taken a shot to the head on Wednesday.

We would have heard expressions of concern. Talk of proper protocols and protecting a revered athlete. Appropriate discourse.

It would have been a reminder about how essential it is for everyone playing sports – whether you’re a girl playing soccer, a boy playing ice hockey or a hooper fighting for a rebound – of how to mind possible brain injuries.

It would’ve sounded like this: “It’s an easy argument to make that his life is on the line when he steps out on the field.”

That’s Smith, by the way, just a few weeks ago, on April 20. He was on TV reacting to Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa’s admission that he contemplated retirement after suffering multiple concussions last season.

Just gonna leave this here.

— Mirjam Swanson (@MirjamSwanson) May 11, 2023

“What happened with him was criminal,” a solemn, sober Smith said then. “He should have never, ever been allowed to stay on the field, even though he survived that game that Miami won (against Buffalo), and he certainly shouldn’t have been allowed on the field that Thursday night against Cincinnati, when another hit, where his head hit the turf and it looked like rigor mortis had kicked in and his fingers were contorted, and his body froze.

“It was a scary, scary sight to see.”

So … not funny, in other words?

Because it didn’t happen to Anthony Davis?

Enough people let it be known that they did not find any humor in Davis’ injury that Smith was moved to walk back his comments on Twitter later Thursday.

Blow back is Blow back,” he tweeted. “Comes with the territory, peeps. I was in no way minimizing the seriousness of a concussion. I was questioning whether Anthony Davis really had one, considering the play I saw & other hits I’ve seen him absorb. But, bottom line, it was wrong for me to do. Period! My bad.”

There are hot takes, there are bad takes – and then there are bad takes.

My only take: Here’s hoping the Lakers and those around Davis take good care of him.

Anthony Davis just exited the arena after Game 5.

— Dave McMenamin (@mcten) May 11, 2023

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