Andrea Walker was home in Charlotte, N.C., on Friday night watching on television as the Celtics faced the Nuggets when she saw her son Kemba collide headfirst into Semi Ojeleye and collapse to the floor.
Walker was on the phone with her daughter at the time, and that at least gave her someone to talk to while she saw Kemba lying there almost motionless.
“Oh, my God,” she said. “His neck. His neck.”
Andrea saw the concerned looks on the faces of the other Celtics.
She saw the stretcher wheeled onto the court. She saw her son immobilized and taken away, and she felt as helpless as any mother would.
“It was awful,” she said by phone on Sunday. “If I could’ve jumped through that TV, I would have. I felt like he was halfway around the world.”
Andrea was relieved by each bit of news she received as time passed. And on Sunday, Kemba was actually on the court with the Celtics after the practice was opened to the media.
Celtics coach Brad Stevens said Walker did some work on an exercise bike and in the weight room and did not take part in basketball drills, and he is officially doubtful for Monday night’s game against the Kings with a sprained neck.
For Walker’s mother, it is just about the best possible outcome following a harrowing few hours on Friday night. She said that a member of the Celtics’ medical staff called her almost instantly and vowed to keep her informed every step of the way.
That made her feel a little better, but she still didn’t know if the news would be good. At first, they just told her they needed to go to a hospital, because the Pepsi Center in Denver didn’t have the medical equipment needed to complete the necessary tests.
She heard a commentator compare Walker’s injury to another that had resulted in temporary paralysis, and that made her feel worse.
“I mean, all kinds of things were going through my mind,” Andrea said. “It was just crazy.”
Finally, after tests had been completed and major concerns had been ruled out, she spoke to Kemba on the phone, and he told her he was going to be fine.
At the time, he was experiencing some concussion-like symptoms, but a concussion was later ruled out.
Andrea had a FaceTime call with Kemba on Saturday and she felt even better when she saw for herself that he appeared to be doing well. And she could not believe what he told her next.
“He wants to play on Monday!” Andrea said, finding it at once unbelievable and yet also believable, because she knows her son.
“He wants to play. I’m like, ‘This boy, this boy.’ He just loves his sport so much. I told him if he wants to play, just play five minutes then.”
The Celtics’ medical staff will have some say in that decision, of course.
When Walker was hurt, Stevens immediately thought back to his final season coaching at Butler, when one of his players ran headfirst into a basket stanchion and briefly lost movement.
He was thankful that the concerns about Walker’s neck injury never came close to being the worst-case scenario.
Stevens indicated that Walker could probably play through this mild neck sprain, but that the team was being cautious with him due to the nature of the injury.
“He’s been good and he feels good,” Stevens said. “It’s kind of a minor miracle based on what we saw the other day. But the strain is real and he’s got some soreness in his back and neck. That’s it.”
Andrea Walker had been scheduled to come to Boston for this week’s games against the Kings and Nets.
On Saturday she asked Kemba if he wanted her to come earlier, but he said there was no need.
“But I can’t wait to see him [Monday],” she said, “and give him a big hug and a kiss.”
. . .
Celtics forward Gordon Hayward, who remains out after breaking a bone in his left hand two weeks ago, completed shooting drills on Sunday using both hands.
“He’s great,” Stevens said. “Feeling well. He’s got some swelling where the incision was but that’s to be expected. He’s doing a really good job.”
. . .
The Celtics recalled Tremont Waters from the Maine Red Claws, and Stevens said he will be activated if Walker is ruled out for Monday’s game.