Kobe Bryant cleared to play
EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant was cleared by a neurologist after suffering a nasal fracture and concussion in Sunday's NBA All-Star Game and played in Wednesday's game against the Minnesota Timberwolves.
"Kobe has been seen on a number of occasions today," said neurologist Dr. Vern Williams before the game. "He's been examined and reevaluated and he's gone through every one of the specific tests that we've required him to go through and he's passed them all with flying colors. He's been asymptomatic, or symptom-free, as well today. Although he's had a somewhat accelerated step-wise return to play, he has satisfied, to our satisfaction, a step-wise return to play."
Before Williams' final evaluation of Bryant administered in the training room adjacent to the Lakers' locker room about an hour before tipoff, Bryant had visited with the doctor on three other occasions between Tuesday and Wednesday.
Earlier Wednesday, Bryant passed a neurological exam, a baseline test for concussion management, as well as a stationary bike test and treadmill test with Williams before heading to the Lakers' practice facility where he successfully completed an on-court test consisting of a game of 2-on-2, monitored by the Lakers' training staff.
Williams spoke to reporters after clearing Bryant to clear up any questions that might have existed about Bryant's "accelerated" recovery process in light of the NBA's increased emphasis on concussion treatment this year. The league enacted a new concussion policy before the lockout-shortened 2011-12 season, mandating that a player diagnosed with a concussion will have to complete a series of tests to confirm he is healthy enough to return to game action.
"As you all know, a concussion is a huge issue," Williams said. "Rightly so, there's a lot of attention being paid to concussions in every major sport at every level. The reason I wanted to make a statement, I wanted to make it clear we don't have special rules for special people and that we have followed our clinical guidelines with respect to return to play."
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Williams explained that while Bryant still reported concussion-like symptoms when he was evaluated on Tuesday, including headaches, nausea and sensitivity to light and sound, Williams believed those symptoms had more to do with neck strain Bryant experienced from Dwyane Wade's foul more so than occurring as a result of the concussion.
"My opinion was that the overwhelming majority, the significant majority, of his symptoms on Tuesday were related to that cervical (related) headache, or whiplash kind of effect," Williams said. "That was partially based on his physical examination. That was partially based on his description of symptoms and also based on his response to treatment for his neck."
Williams said Bryant's neck injury is a "soft-tissue kind of injury" and does not involve any structural damage.
"He's got full range of motion, he's got good strength and reflexes and no sensory changes or anything of that nature, so we don't expect that to be an ongoing issue," Williams said.
The Lakers' training staff has fabricated a protective mask to cover Bryant's nose, but Lakers coach Mike Brown said Bryant did not wear the mask during his on-court basketball workout on Wednesday afternoon. Bryant wore the mask in Wednesday's game.
"He looks good right now," Williams said. "We've cleared him to return. We will watch him very carefully and we'll see how he does."
Dave McMenamin covers the Lakers for ESPNLosAngeles.com.