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Last week Ramsay said of the incident, "Is it a sin to take a painkiller? I would never allow a player to play if I thought he was risking serious injury. But listen, this is their job. A professional basketball player is capable of deciding for himself whether he should take an injection or not. He knows the risks involved. If he doesn't, he should ask."
Did Gross ask? "They said it was going to numb me," he said. "They said it was tendinitis. You can pump an ankle with tendinitis full of anesthetics and nothing will ever happen. If I had it to do over again I would insist on their finding out exactly what was wrong."
Last week Cook had this to say about the team's policy on anesthetics: "For certain injuries we do not use pain modifiers. We do not, for example, inject major weight-bearing joints. We would not totally anesthetize a person's foot. If we did that and a person played any sport, he could irreparably damage his foot and be totally unaware of any sensation. That is something we do not do."
There had been word that Gross, who is still recovering from the fracture, was considering taking legal action against the Blazers. "I never said I would sue," said Gross, "though I'm sure I could if I wanted to."
With Gross out of the lineup, the pressure grew on everyone to "get healthy." especially Walton. No one had to tell him that even if all the players were in perfect health but him, the Blazers would go nowhere in the playoffs. His right foot had healed after the surgery, but the left was still swollen and painful. On March 28 the Celtics came to town. The Blazers had lost seven of their last nine. Before the game, Walton tried out his left foot, though he hadn't done any running since Feb. 28. He took "oral medication" before the game, either Butazolidin or Decadron. He had taken the drugs at times during the season. So had most of the other ailing Blazers.
Decadron is particularly effective in reducing inflammation, and stronger than Butazolidin. The dosage must be carefully regulated, however, and generally a prescription is required, as prolonged use or excessive dosage can impair the body's defense mechanisms against infection. Also, extended use of the drug can cause loss of texture and strength of bones, resulting in spontaneous fractures. Cook said last week that he verbally instructs Culp to administer Decadron or Butazolidin orally to a specific player for a specific amount of time. "I never use Decadron in oral form on a sustained basis," said Cook. "There are so-called diminishing-dose packs that may be used for a period of three to five days."
Several Trail Blazers said last week that getting Decadron or Butazolidin is no big deal. "You just go to the trainer and tell him you've got a sore shoulder or elbow," said one, "and he says, 'I'll get you some Bute.' Then a little while later it's in your locker." Culp said he only gives medication to a player whose condition Cook knows about, and he carefully records the administration of every last pill, in accordance with NBA rules.
In case Culp forgets to deliver the pill, however, or if Cook does not know about a player's condition, or if the player does not want Cook to know, the player can take Bute or Decadron himself. The drugs are kept in a cabinet in the training room, and while the players are dressing or undressing, the cabinet is usually unlocked. "Everybody knows where it is," said another player. "You don't have to sneak it. They want you to take it. Why do you think it's there?"
Before the March 28 Boston game, Ramsay asked Walton if he could play. Walton said his foot hurt despite the medication, and he did not play. The next three games were in Phoenix, Los Angeles and Seattle. According to Walton, Ramsay insisted he make the trip. Ramsay says that Walton never objected to traveling. "Besides," said Ramsay last week, "Dr. Cook said that Bill's readiness to play could come at any time." The reporters covering the team were under the same impression.
The Oregonian reported on April 1 that Walton, "hobbled by a mysterious injury to his left foot, was sent to Portland Friday, five hours before the Blazers took the court to play Los Angeles.... No longer was anyone in the Blazer family hiding concern."