Ann Heisenfelt/AP
Golden State Warriors guard Monta Ellis

Warriors’ Ellis Could Be Disciplined for Ankle Injury

September 11, 2008 05:25 PM
by Denis Cummings
Golden State Warriors guard Monta Ellis is just the latest pro athlete to jeopardize contract and career by sustaining injury while engaging in banned activities.

‘It Happened Outdoors and Not While Playing Basketball’

Monta Ellis, a 22-year-old guard, signed a six-year, $66-million contract in July. The Warriors hoped he would become their go-to scorer after all-star guard Baron Davis signed elsewhere, but he will miss at least three months after tearing his deltoid ligament and suffering a Grade 3 high ankle sprain on August 21.

Ellis told the Warriors that he hurt his ankle during an on-court workout in Mississippi, but the Warriors were skeptical that he could be injured so severely in a workout. They sent their trainer to investigate and found out that Ellis also had cuts and abrasions on his legs—injuries that could not have been suffered on a basketball court.

On September 6, the Contra Costa Times reported that Ellis admitted to the Warriors that the injury “happened outdoors and not while playing basketball.” Neither the Warriors nor Ellis have elaborated on the incident, but many in the media have speculated that Ellis was injured in a motorcycle accident.

Riding motorcycles is a prohibited activity under the NBA Uniform Player Contract, as are other potentially dangerous activities like skydiving, snowboarding, mountain climbing, boxing and motorized racing. If Ellis was riding a motorcycle or participating in another prohibited activity, the Warriors could fine or suspend Ellis, or void his contract.

Other athletes have been in Ellis’s position over the past decade, having injured themselves while engaging in dangerous or prohibited activities. Teams have generally avoided punishing star players who recover from their injury, but lesser players have received large fines or had their contracts voided.

If history is any indication, Ellis will avoid serious punishment if he’s able to return and play up to his potential. Given the severity of the injury, however, there is a chance that he will never fully recover and suffer the same fate as former Bulls guard Jay Williams. The second pick in the 2002 NBA Draft, Williams nearly died after crashing his motorcycle and was given a $3 million buyout by the Bulls. He attempted to come back in 2006, but played in just five NBA games before retiring.

Background: Athletes injured in prohibited activities

Ellis’s story has a familiar ring to many sports fans, especially those who remember the 2002 wrist injury of another Bay Area athlete, former Giants second baseman Jeff Kent. Kent claimed that he hurt it while washing his truck, but witness reports said he was involved in a motorcycle crash. Though few believed Kent’s story, he never admitted to riding a motorcycle and the Giants never attempted to fine him or void his contract.

Two NFL players were seriously injured in motorcycle accidents in 2005 and 2006. The Browns originally recouped nearly $3 million in bonuses after former top-10 draft pick Kellen Winslow II was injured, but they later agreed to a contract extension that allowed Winslow to regain the money.

Months after leading the Pittsburgh Steelers to the Super Bowl, Ben Roethlisberger crashed his motorcycle and later needed an emergency appendectomy. Although the Steelers had warned him that riding a motorcycle would jeopardize his contract, they decided not to punish their franchise quarterback after he returned early the next season.

Teams have been much stricter when dealing with players who are not essential to their success. Hockey team Detroit Red Wings refused to pay defenseman Uwe Krupp for two years while a back injury kept him out of the lineup; Krupp had been seen dog-sledding during his rehab and the team said it compromised his recovery. Baseball's Aaron Boone was the hero of the 2003 American League Championship Series, but the New York Yankees voided his contract after he was hurt playing basketball in the off-season.

Last year, the Los Angeles Lakers’ Vladimir Radmanovic separated his shoulder while snowboarding, but told the team that he slipped on a patch of ice. After the Lakers discovered the basketball player was lying, they fined him $500,000, nearly 10 percent of his salary.

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