Ralph Sampson of the Houston Rockets, who Monday night was carried from the floor of the Boston Garden when it was feared he had a broken back, walked out of a Boston hospital five hours later after X-rays proved negative.
Boston Celtic team physician Dr. Thomas Silva feared the 7-foot-4 forward might have suffered a broken back when he toppled backward and hit his head while trying for a rebound. Sampson, who temporarily lost all feeling in his right foot, was taken from the court on a stretcher and out of Boston Garden in an ambulance.
Dr. Stasha Gominak, who treated Sampson at Massachusetts General Hospital, confirmed that neurological damage had taken place, resulting in the temporary lack of feeling in the lower portion of his right leg, but the All-Star "would feel better in a couple of days. He said he hit his head just slightly. He will have tenderness in his shoulder and back and perhaps some discomfort when he takes a deep breath."
Sampson said upon leaving the hospital at 1:25 a.m. (EST) today that the incident "was real scary, having the numbness in my leg. I felt pretty bad at the time, but I feel pretty good now. I was fortunate that I fell flat on my back."
X-rays of Sampson's head, neck and back all proved negative, Gominak said.
The Rockets are scheduled to play Wednesday at Indianapolis against the Pacers. Sampson said he was uncertain whether he would accompany the team or fly back to Houston.
"I haven't decided yet, but I'll take a few days off," he said.
Sampson, a three-time All-Star forward, fell during the second quarter of Houston's 114-107 loss to Boston. He appeared to have lost his balance while trying for the rebound, rather than having been hit while in the air.
Celtic spokesman Jeff Twiss quoted Silva as saying Sampson had "no feeling or movement in his right lower extremity" in the minutes immediately after the accident.
"He had a definite neurological loss in the lower right leg, and a contusion of the upper right back and head," Silva said later.
Sampson had regained some sensation and movement in his right foot within 30 minutes after the accident, and he exhibited no difficulty walking or unsteadiness while leaving the hospital.
Sampson, 25, was carried off the court on a stretcher and was wheeled to an ambulance wearing his Rocket uniform, wrapped in a blanket and strapped to a gurney.
Silva said Sampson never lost consciousness and was alert, but he complained of nausea.
Twiss said Sampson remained "very calm," and wanted his mother to be telephoned "so she wouldn't worry." His mother lives in Harrisonburg, Va.
Before the incident, Sampson played 22 minutes and scored 17 points.
"I knew it was bad when he went down," Houston Coach Bill Fitch said of the accident. "I was concerned as soon as he hit. He was in a lot of pain.
"He finally got to the point where the pain let up a little bit. And he could say where he felt sensations. I'm sure he was scared to death. Someone asked, 'Can you feel something?' And he said 'No."'
Added Sampson's teammate, Robert Reid: "He just said, 'Oh my God,' and that was it. It was very scary. The doctor touches the guy's back and says it's something with the vertebrae. When he first fell, I thought maybe the wind was knocked out of him. But then I knew it was worse when I saw him rolled up on the floor. He didn't say anything, you could see he was scared."
Sampson was the first player selected in the 1983 draft and was that year's NBA Rookie of the Year when he led the Rockets in scoring, rebounding and blocked shots.
Last season, when the Rockets drafted Akeem Olajuwon, Sampson was moved to forward. He still ranked 11th in the league in rebounding and 19th in scoring, and was selected to the second All-NBA team.
Sampson came to the Rockets after a brilliant college career at Virginia, where he was an All-American for three years and Player of the Year from 1981-83.