Jarnell Stokes climbed out of the totaled Town car and squinted into the light, attempting to get his bearings. This couldn’t possibly be how it ends, could it?
Not at the hands of a hit-and-run driver. Not when he was on his way to the airport for his first workout with an NBA team — and not just any team, the defending champion Miami Heat. Not because, after all his hard work and attention to detail, he’d let his guard down by not wearing his seatbelt.
With his white T-shirt soaked with blood and a sore knee, a dark thought crossed Stokes’ mind: Will I still be able to play basketball?
“I had invested so much,” Stokes said by phone on Friday. “I was able to dominate at the combine. I’d worked on my body — I’d lost 5-10 pounds — and I’d improved my shot. I was excited to showcase these things in the workouts. And I saw my Draft dreams coming to a close.”
The former Tennessee star ran to the front of the rented sedan and helped the driver get out. Then, disoriented from what he’d later learn was a concussion, he started jumping up and down and running around, attempting to reassure himself that the accident hadn’t robbed him of his ability to do what he loves.
His first phone call was to his little brother Isaiah, an up-and-coming player in his own right – just to tell him to put his seatbelt on. He then called his agent, Travis King, and asked him to get another ride so he could continue to Miami.
That was a little ambitious. As a result of his concussion, Stokes was sensitive to light, couldn’t remember things people told him and was unable to walk in a straight line. The doctors said he should sit out a month, which would cost him his golden opportunity to showcase his game to NBA teams.
For Jarnell, that obviously wouldn’t do. He rested as much as he could for the next few days, and then proceeded to pass all the protocols. His knee felt fine. Never mind a month, Stokes was cleared to work out again after one week.