In a sport far less violent, the Miami Heat last season waited in terms of months for the type of return that quarterback Tua Tagovailoa made in days this week for the Miami Dolphins.
While the whiplash suffered by forward Markieff Morris differed from what the Dolphins termed a back injury for Tagovailoa on Sunday, the NBA still sidelined Morris for four months last season before he returned in March, out of an abundance of caution for that neck injury. Tagovailoa was back on the field for Thursday night’s road loss to the Cincinnati Bengals, when he suffered what has been reported as neck and head injuries that left him hospitalized.
Morris several times last season pushed to return ahead of his formal NBA clearance, at one point working out with former NBA players at a South Florida gym while still barred by the NBA from practicing at the Heat’s facilities.
Unlike Tagovailoa and the harsh hits endured Sunday against the Buffalo Bills and then Thursday against the Bengals, Morris’ injury did not occur during the course of play, but rather from a shove from behind during a November skirmish with Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic. Both players were penalized by the NBA for that incident.
In order to return last season, Morris had to receive clearance from the NBA’s Fitness To Play Panel. That panel is made up of an NBA doctor, a doctor representing the National Basketball Players Association, and an independent physician.
The NBA was particularly concerned because Morris had sustained a neck injury in 2019 while playing for the Washington Wizards.
The Heat had hoped to get Morris back sooner than his March return, with coach Erik Spoelstra at the time calling the protocols “a tedious process.”
“It’s taken longer than everybody anticipated,” Spoelstra said at the time. “But these are things that you can’t necessarily control.”
Amid his absence, Morris bristled at those who questioned the severity of his injury, noting on Twitter of Jokic, “It’s a real injury! Imagine having a 300 pound sloppy fat boy run full speed and make direct contact with your spine!”
The Heat have erred on the side of caution several times with serious situations with players over the franchise’s 35 seasons, including with Alonzo Mourning’s kidney illness and Chris Bosh’s blood clots.
Morris left the Heat in free agency in the offseason for the Brooklyn Nets, signing a one-year, non-guaranteed contract for the veteran minimum. He appeared in 17 regular-season games and one playoff game during his lone season with the Heat.
Jokic went on to be named the NBA’s Most Valuable Player for a second consecutive season.