By Jessica Camerato
CSNNE.com Follow @JCameratoNBA
It began like a routine play. Marquis Daniels caught the ball near the baseline and attempted to drive to the basket against Gilbert Arenas. The two players collided and . . . in an instant, everything changed.
His right arm crashed into the parquet first, followed by his face. Daniels lay flat on the court, unable to feel his body but still conscious. He thought about his two young children Man, I cant raise my kids like this. This cant be it. as the crowd of 18,624 at the TD Garden came to a deafening hush, waiting and hoping to see any sign of movement.
Daniels heard a voice. In that moment, the most intense player on the court was suddenly the calming assurance he needed.
I just remember I kept hearing Kevin Garnett telling me, Youre gonna be alright. Youre gonna be alright, Daniels told CSNNE.com in a telephone interview. I was like, I cant move. He said, What do you mean? He kept telling me I was gonna be alright. I think that helped me out a lot, just hearing his voice telling me I was going to be alright. I stayed calm, I didnt panic.
It was a trying time for me. I didnt take anything for granted. I was going to take everything seriously from now on.
It has been six months since Daniels suffered his terrifying injury on February 6 during the second quarter of a Sunday afternoon game against the Orlando Magic. Six months since he was temporary paralyzed and wheeled out of the Garden on a stretcher with his future in question. Six months since the Celtics lost a key player in their championship quest.
As Daniels works toward his return to basketball, so much has changed since then.
Daniels shocking fall looked like a freak accident at first glance. After being transported to New England Baptist Hospital, he was initially diagnosed with a bruised spinal cord and was expected to miss at least one month.
Further testing, though, revealed he suffered from spinal stenosis, a narrowing of the spinal canal, which can put pressure on the spinal cord and spinal nerves, and can also cause numbness. (He was surprised to learn many injuries sustained during his career, including a nagging thumb injury, were tied back to the condition.)
The news meant his return to the court would be put on hold. First spine surgery, then recovery. Daniels, 30, took it all in stride.
Doc Rivers told me, I cant let you play no more like this, he recalled. I was like, Thats fine. Whatever this problem is, Ive got to get it fixed.
The Celtics had some fixing to do, too.
Without Daniels able to play, the team lost a critical piece to their championship hopes a back up swingman to both Paul Pierce and Ray Allen. Eyeing a long playoff run, the Cs needed another bench player to spell the veterans minutes. Less than three weeks after Daniels injury, the team made moves looking ahead to the postseason.
Daniels was traded to the Sacramento Kings on February 24. That same day, the Celtics acquired Jeff Green and Nenad Krstic in exchange for Kendrick Perkins and Nate Robinson, breaking up their starting five and adding new faces to the bench.
Green looked to be the reserve player the team needed to help fill the void Daniels left, but his contributions fell short down the stretch. The Celtics, who fell one win shy of their 18th NBA Championship the previous season, were eliminated in the Eastern Conference Semifinals by the Miami Heat.
Looking back on the Celtics season, Daniels doesnt want to attribute the outcome to his injury alone.
I dont know, he said. Things happen for a reason, so I dont want to put all of that on me. It was a key component. . . . Ray and Paul needed some help so they were forced to make some trades, but it was out of my hands. God works in mysterious ways.
Daniels never stopped pulling for the Celtics. These were the players who huddled around him and wouldnt leave his side until he was taken off the court in February. They were also the players who visited him in the hospital following his surgery in late March after he had been traded.
It is not surprising Daniels, an unrestricted free agent, mentions the Cs as he talks about the next steps in his basketball career. While many players are exploring international options during the lockout, he is focusing first on the NBA.
I definitely would like to be anywhere where a team wants me, he said. Im keeping my options open. I still root for the guys on the Celtics. Its a great organization. I talk to Paul (Pierce) and Kevin and (Rajon) Rondo and all those guys. So Id be open to coming back there as well.
"On his thoughts of playing overseas, he says, Im not sure. I cant say because theres so much going on right now that we have to stick together first as a union, and us players have to try to do whats best for us to try to make something happen sooner than later. And hopefully it can be sooner.
In the meantime, Daniels continues to work toward getting game-ready. He is able to lift weights, shoot, and run Considering where I came from, laying down there, couldnt move, its definitely great, he said and hopes to be cleared for contact drills this month. His injury in February hasnt discouraged him from playing tough. He is looking forward to taking his first hard foul.
Ive got to see how I react to it first, he said. I know its going to hurt. . . . Once I get that first hit, that first bump, Ill be ok.
While working toward his return to basketball, Daniels is also involved in several other projects and passions.
This summer Daniels hosted the Q6 Foundation 5th Annual Celebrity Weekend in Orlando to benefit his charity, the Q6 Foundation, which helps underprivileged children. The foundation also raises money and awareness for health concerns including sickle cell anemia. Rondo and former Celtic Tony Allen continued to show their support for Daniels by attending the event.
As another avenue to inspire others, Daniels has been involved in a project that documented him and other athletes as they recover from injuries. Although he could not divulge too many details, he shared it lets people know what theyre going through to get back and get healthy.
When it comes to his music, Daniels is still writing songs and working with his own artists to release their mix tapes. While he penned lyrics when he first joined the Celtics in 2009 (My life is very awesome Relax like Kevin Cossom I got so much green That's why they signed your boy to Boston), he hasnt written verses about his injury. In this case, Daniels doesnt want art to imitate life.
I was thinking about it, but its kind of a touchy subject, he said. I dont like to really, I dont even like to really look at it. It was such a strange accident. For me, for that to happen, I could have been in the air and got it. Who knows what could have happened then. Im just glad it happened the way it did and I was able to break my fall on him (Arenas) a little bit because I couldnt brace myself or catch myself from hitting the floor.
Without looking too often in the past, Daniels continues to move forward.
He knows the road back to basketball will not be an easy one the undrafted veteran never had anything handed to him in the first place. But as he left the court on a stretcher, he never doubted his ability to get back in the game.
Im a guy I dont get too high on the highs or too low on the lows, he said. If that was going to be it for me, I was willing to accept it. But I knew that I still had love for the game and I still could play, so Im always going to work hard to try to get myself back to the things I love doing and get back on the court.
Its a message he sums up in less than 140 characters every time he tweets to his more than 30,000 followers. His signature beleedat hashtag has taken on a special meaning since that afternoon in February.
Basically whatever you believe in, it can happen, he said. With my situation, I know a lot of people probably think, Hes done. He wont be back.
But beleedat I will be back.