The latest in a long line of neck injuries may be the final professional injury for Longhorn legend TJ Ford, who was hurt once again on Wednesday when New York Knick point guard Baron Davis gave him a "blindside body check" that sent the smaller Ford flying. On Monday, the former Texas point guard announced that he is considering retiring.
In some ways, Ford is probably lucky to have made it this far, which he acknowledged on Monday:
I played the last five years with doctor's orders not to play. I still defeated the odds with this condition.
While still at Texas, Ford suffered a scary fall playing pick-up basketball that required a trip to hospital. Early in his NBA career, he missed time with back injuries and then sat out the 2004-05 season with spinal stenosis, a condition he was diagnosed with back in high school.
Ford made it sound like an official retirement, but the Spurs have only ruled Ford out for the season and said that he is taking "an indefinite leave of absence from basketball." The wording from the team seems to leave open the possibility of a return, though that does not seem to be the focus for Ford at this point, who said that he doesn't want to risk his future health after so many injuries, normally a decision that football players are much more likely to be forced into than basketball players.
As a pro, Ford's legacy is probably that of an undersized point guard whose physical limitations, particularly that spinal stenosis, always limited him.
What isn't in question is his legacy as the most important player in the history of the Texas program. As a collegian, there could be a debate about whether he was better than Kevin Durant -- and it's relatively hard to compare players that different -- but no debate that he led Texas to the only modern Final Four in the school's history and was responsible for creating a tidal wave of recruiting momentum for Rick Barnes that continues to this day.
Before TJ Ford, it wasn't cool for the top players in the state -- or anywhere else in the country -- to come play basketball at Texas. Austin was a recruiting wasteland. A basketball wasteland. Ford changed all of that.
Without Ford, there would be no LaMarcus Aldridge, no DJ Augustin, no Kevin Durant, no Myck Kabongo. All off the success on the recruiting trail is directly attributable Ford and, therefore, essentially all the success achieved by the program over the last decade. That may sound like hyperbole, but it isn't. If you're a Texas basketball fan, it's worth keeping that in perspective.
Because of that, Ford will always hold a special and dear spot in the hearts of Longhorn fans, as well he should. Hook 'em, TJ, and best of luck with your health.
When looking back on that time in Austin, what was your favorite TJ Ford moment?