While commissioner David Stern and his players joust over the NBA's dress code, a more serious issue is unresolved: Could the Oct. 15 death of 28-year-old Hawks center Jason Collier have been prevented? The medical investigation is focusing on potential heart abnormalities. After cardiac scares this year for several NBA players--including Knicks center Eddy Curry, former Timberwolves guard Fred Hoiberg and Lakers second-round draft pick Ronny Turiaf--a review of medical practices in all sports would seem to take priority over Allen Iverson's pants.
Yet the NBA's response to issues raised by Collier's death has been tepid. The commissioner's office, which lets teams decide which medical protocols to follow, announced that it would "find out what the norms are across the league." In short: A doctor will talk to each franchise, then recommend whether leaguewide standards should be enacted.
One test that should be mandatory in all pro sports is the echocardiogram, a cardiac-imaging exam that can detect hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM) and other structural defects. Hoiberg, 33, underwent successful heart surgery in June after an echocardiogram during a private insurance physical revealed an aortic aneurysm that was close to rupturing. "I wish it were something every player was required to have," says Hoiberg, who is sitting out this season with hope of an NBA comeback next year. "It's a simple test and it saved my life."
Incoming rookies undergo echocardiograms at the annual predraft camp, but the NBA, like the NFL, NHL and Major League Baseball, doesn't require the test to be part of teams' standard physicals--even though conditions like HCM, a thickening of the heart walls that caused the deaths of Reggie Lewis and Hank Gathers and, reportedly, 49ers lineman Thomas Herrion, can develop at any point in life. "I can't see why professional sports don't screen all players," says Lisa Salberg, founder of the Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy Association, a support group for people with HCM. "For under $5,000 per person you can do an EKG, an echo and a stress test."
When the Bulls asked Curry to take a DNA test to gauge his risk for HCM after two heart-related scares, G.M. John Paxson discovered that the question of which tests to use was too complicated for one team to resolve (SI, Oct. 10). That's why Stern and union chief Billy Hunter should form a committee of medical advisers to establish a uniform cardiac health policy. Their counterparts in the other three major sports should do the same. So that everybody understands what's at stake, they can name the task forces after Jason Collier.