Marques Johnson Told: Surgery and 3-Month Layoff--or Retire

Times Staff Writer

Clipper star Marques Johnson will be sidelined for a minimum of three months because of a ruptured disk in his neck, which requires surgery, Tony Daly, the team physician, said Monday.

Johnson, however, hasn’t made a decision on whether to have surgery, which would include the fusion of two vertebrae. If he has the operation, he will probably be out of action for at least three months and possibly the rest of the season. If Johnson doesn’t have the operation, Daly said he would recommend retirement.

With Johnson on the injured list, the Clippers are considering signing Quintin Dailey, the troubled guard who played for the Chicago Bulls, as Johnson’s replacement, General Manager Elgin Baylor said.


Johnson was injured in a collision with teammate Benoit Benjamin last Thursday night during a 113-108 loss to Dallas. He lost feeling in his upper body but quickly regained it. He was hospitalized overnight.

The Clippers announced last Friday that Johnson would be out for two to three weeks with a bruised spinal cord.

Daly said further tests revealed that Johnson has a ruptured disk between the third and fourth vertebrae. Johnson has a history of lower back problems, but Daly said that this injury is not related.

Johnson and his wife, Jocelyn, met with Dr. Daly Monday.

“Basically, what he has is a ruptured cervical disk between the third and fourth vertebrae in his neck and it showed in the tests we did,” Daly said. “That’s why his upper body went numb.

“I presented him with two options. One option would be to do a cervical fusion and remove the disk. It would allow him to play basketball again, but not before three months. The other option would be not to play basketball. He’s too much at risk not to do anything. You see football players retire because of (similar injuries).”

Johnson also has a choice that Daly didn’t recommend. He could decide not to have surgery and return to action.


Johnson isn’t expected to decide until later this week or early next week. He will be examined by a neurosurgeon Wednesday, then will meet again with Daly next week.

Asked if intends to sit out the rest of the season, Johnson said Monday morning before seeing Daly: “I’d have to give it serious consideration. The main concern right now is the position of the disk in my back. Just going through what I went through (Thursday) was scary enough. And who knows what might happen if I was hit again?

“I remember the events leading up to (the collision with Benjamin),” Johnson said. “I remember grabbing the rebound and turning to go up court. I saw Ben and I thought I had enough room to get around him.

“I remember thinking, ‘Oh no!’ And the last thing I saw was double zero (Benjamin’s number) in front of me. I never lost consciousness but I couldn’t move my upper body for a while. My fingers were locked for a minute or so.”

Johnson, 30, is in his 10th season in the National Basketball Assn. He spent the first seven years of his career in Milwaukee before he was traded to the Clippers in the fall of 1984. He has been the Clippers’ second-leading scorer this season with a 16.6 average in 10 games.

While Johnson ponders his future, the injury-depleted Clippers are looking at Dailey. They have just 10 healthy players because of injuries to starting guards Johnson and Larry Drew, who has a hamstring problem.


“We’re interested in Quintin,” Baylor said “It looks like Marques’ injury is more serious than we originally thought.”

Dailey, who has a history of drug problems, became a free agent last summer when the Bulls failed to pick up his option. He is playing for the Jacksonville Jets of the Continental Basketball League.

Dailey was hospitalized twice last season for drug treatment. He was suspended without pay by the Bulls last February after voluntarily entering a drug rehabilitation center in Van Nuys. He also underwent drug treatment before the 1985-86 season, missing 31 days and 13 games.

Dailey has one more chance under the terms of the NBA drug agreement with the players’ association. He will be banned from the league for two years if he violates the NBA’s drug policy one more time. Two players--John Drew and Micheal Ray Richardson--have already been banned.

“He’s got one strike left,” said NBA General Counsel Gary Bettman. “He came forward twice last season. If he has another relapse he’s gone. But was far as we know he’s following his treatment.”

Dailey also underwent eight weeks of drug treatment for cocaine use after his rookie season in 1982-83. That didn’t count against his record, however, because it happened before the league’s drug policy was in effect.


“We’ve followed him all summer long and have had a lot of meetings with him and the doctors he has been working with,” Clipper President Alan Rothenberg said of Dailey. “They can’t give any assurances that he won’t have a relapse. On the other hand they’re all quite pleased with the progress he’s made.

“I can’t say a decision has been made to sign him. But it’s under serious consideration. But I think we’ll wait at least until the end of the week to make a decision. We need to know what Marques’ status is.”

Clipper Notes The Clippers (3-9) will try to snap a six-game losing streak when they play in Seattle tonight. The Clippers will have just 10 players because of injuries to starting guards Marques Johnson and Larry Drew. Mike Woodson will start in place of Johnson and Geoff Huston will replace Drew at point guard. Huston has a sore ankle, but Coach Don Chaney thinks Huston will be able to play. Forward Rory White also has a back injury, but he is expected to play. . . . The Clippers will play consecutive games against the Lakers, Wednesday at the Sports Arena and Sunday at the Forum.