NBA Rumor: Steve Clifford Health

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On Saturday night, Clifford sounded more concerned that basketball fans might hear the news about his positive test and mistakenly conclude that vaccines are not effective or worth getting. Indeed, Clifford was not fully vaccinated when he likely was exposed to the virus. But he added that, if the tests were not false positives, he hopes the initial vaccine will make it less likely he develops COVID-19 symptoms. “I just don’t understand why anybody would be against the vaccination,” Clifford said. “I think that the more people that do it in our country, it’s better for all of us.”

Clifford was given an IV and an echocardiogram test at Minnesota’s Target Center not long after leaving the sidelines, and later he was sent to Hennapin County Medical Center for further testing. He said on Saturday that he felt significantly better after receiving the IV and he thinks he likely could have avoided the hospital visit if he hadn’t had a prior history of heart trouble. (In 2013, Clifford had two stents inserted to open arterial blockages, and he returned to the sidelines after missing just two games).

Clifford said on Saturday that a lingering cold and a lack of food intake prior to Friday’s game led to the dizziness that he experienced – something his coaching buddies scolded him about profusely. “I’d say the best (conversation) that I got was a stern lecture from Stan (Van Gundy) last night, and Jeff (Van Gundy) also, and (Tom Thibodeau), too,’’ said Clifford, referring to the medical distress that forced him off the sidelines in the third quarter of the Magic’s 132-118 win over the Minnesota Timberwolves on Friday night. “Those three guys, and Patrick (Ewing), all my guys, they weren’t like … well, not `Hope you feel better.’ It was more like, `C’mon man, you’re not 51 anymore.’”

Coach Steve Clifford left the Magic’s game against the Minnesota Timberwolves during the third quarter and was taken to a Minneapolis hospital to be evaluated. Magic officials said Clifford “came down with an illness” and would not describe the nature of the illness. Assistant coach Tyrone Corbin handled the head-coaching duties in Clifford’s absence. “He just came over and said, ‘You’re going to have to take it,’ and I didn’t really know what it meant until I saw him walk off,” Corbin said after the Magic beat the Timberwolves 132-118. “So it was kind of a shocker, but we’re praying that he’s well.”

Two days later, after an examination by a team doctor, Hornets officials announced Clifford would take an indefinite medical leave of absence. He spent 5½ weeks away from the Hornets. After a barrage of medical tests ruled out a brain tumor or a stroke or something else, doctors determined that a persistent lack of sleep had caused Clifford’s debilitating headaches. A neurologist informed Clifford he needed to do more than change the way he worked; Clifford needed to change the way he lived. He needed to devote more time to sleeping. “Going through it was professionally the most difficult thing I’ve ever had to go through,” Clifford says now. “It impacted our team in a bad way. I feel terrible about it. Now, personally, it was probably the best thing that ever happened to me.”

Marvin Williams, a Hornets forward who played four seasons with Clifford as his coach, recalls the team plane landing from road games sometimes at 2 a.m. and then Clifford being in his office at the arena at 5:30 or 6 in the morning. “That’s how much it meant to him,” Williams says. “He was constantly watching film on us, trying to figure out ways to make us better, trying to figure out the scout[ing report] for the next team. That goes back to him being prepared all the time. That was just the everyday norm for him, and obviously it just kind of caught up to him. I think it wore him down a little bit.”

When Clifford’s leave of absence started, he could not sleep more than five consecutive hours, no matter how hard he tried to do so. He had to retrain his body. Sleep now is a priority. These days, he’ll still stay up late to watch a game, he says. But instead of waking up at 5 or 5:30 a.m. no matter what, he’ll instead set his alarm for 6:45 or 7 a.m. Clifford also delegated to his assistant coaches a bit more than he had done in the past. On some occasions, Williams says, Clifford had his assistants run some of the shootarounds or a few of the practices.

Among the subjects that came up repeatedly: Clifford’s health. He experienced a frightening health scare this past season. Suffering from crippling headaches that doctors said were caused by persistent sleep deprivation, Clifford took a leave of absence from early December through mid-January and missed 21 of the Hornets’ games. “It impacted our season, there’s no question about that,” Clifford said Wednesday. “So professionally, it was hard. Now, personally, it was probably the best thing that ever happened to me.” Clifford insists he feels as well as he’s ever felt, thanks to getting more sleep.

Fred Hoiberg: To see what other coaches have gone through, this is a very stressful position. There’s a lot of sleepless nights when you lose a game and you think there’s something you could have done. It just eats away at you. And the stress is a hard thing to deal with. You have to rely on your family to get you through the tough times and also your staff and your friends that are in the same position around the league, which you develop a good support system with that. But, yeah, you think a lot about that. One of the assistant coaches for Brooklyn this offseason had the same heart surgery that I had. A guy named Josh Oppenheimer. And then you develop relationships with those guys. It’s our own little special club, the zipper club I guess is what you call it. But you reach out to these guys. Steve Clifford, I’ve gotten to know pretty well over the last couple of years. First and foremost, you just hope everything’s going to be OK, and it’s great to see [him] back on the sidelines. And it sounds like Tyronn’s going to be out a short amount of time and hopefully be back.

What happened over the next 5 1/2 weeks had little do with with basketball, everything to do with self-preservation. It registered on Clifford, who turned 56 in September, that this could potentially end his season, if not his career. Clifford’s condition doesn’t necessarily fit the description of migraines, which his brother has suffered from for years. Jung told Clifford what he was feeling was a pattern among highly stressed Charlotte executives. “The biggest thing for me is a lack of sleep. Stress-related,” Clifford said. “(Jung’s) biggest concern with me is (most executives) don’t travel as much as I do. That’s why they have been a little more careful — and rightfully so — about me coming back.”

Hornets coach Steve Clifford will rejoin the team for practice on Tuesday. Clifford, who left the team Dec. 6 because of health reasons, will coach the Hornets Wednesday against Washington. He spoke with his team on Friday. “It’s great news,” Batum said. “I called him right away and talked to him. It’s good to know he’s coming back, and it’s good to know he’s getting better. He’s been out a few weeks, and it could be scary (to be sick), but the most important thing right now is his health.”
5 years ago via ESPN

Two years ago, Charlotte coach Steve Clifford turned to the team’s medical staff, searching for something to dull periodic headaches. They gave him medication to manage the pain, and Clifford marched the franchise into the playoffs. Time passed, but the headaches only worsened. Doctors ran him through a battery of exams during the 2017 All-Star break, and Clifford kept going. Eventually this season, Clifford was struggling to sleep at all. The pain had become prodigious. All the angst over the winning and losing, all the hours watching video, all those 3:00 a.m. hotel arrivals off back-to-back games, and finally, Clifford sat inside his practice facility office on an early December game-day morning and the truth washed over him: I can’t live this way anymore.
5 years ago via ESPN

Four years ago, Steve Clifford had two stents inserted into his heart on a Friday and coached on the road Monday against the Boston Celtics. Charlotte’s team physician, Joseph Garcia, stood over him in the hospital room and suggested that he sit out that charter flight on Sunday to New England. “But there was no way I wasn’t going on that trip,” Clifford told ESPN by phone on Friday morning. “But this issue now, the headaches, was not even close to the heart. That week before I stepped away, and that morning in the office, it scared me. It was much more significant than the heart was, and I’ve never had anything physically that concerned me as much as this did. “The doctors, all of us, agreed that there was no way I was in a place where I could coach. Whatever I needed to do, I needed to feel better.”
5 years ago via ESPN

How Steve Clifford had always lived and grinded on the job — a bachelor with no kids living out of a spartan condo near the office — offered him an around-the-clock dedication to his craft. In many ways, though, Clifford had tilted the imbalances too far. He had to change — or risk losing everything. “For the most part, the diagnosis was sleep deprivation,” Clifford told ESPN. “The headaches and the cause of the headaches were a lack of regular sleep and the stress that goes along with coaching. There were two ways to treat it: Stronger medication or stepping away from coaching, stopping the travel, getting regular sleep, diet and exercise. “But getting on medication would only be a Band-Aid. It could get me through another day, a week, a month, but here was my decision: Long-term health versus coaching right now. The doctor told me, ‘You may get through this season, but you’re going to have migraines soon, and that’s going to become a much bigger problem for you.'”
5 years ago via ESPN

Clifford was on the phone Friday morning, about to drive downtown into the office and see his players and coaches, the trainers and PR staff. He’ll run a practice on Tuesday, coach against the Washington Wizards on Wednesday, and he’ll try to get past all these injuries and get Charlotte to the Eastern Conference playoffs for the third time in five seasons on the job. The Hornets have a better schedule coming and their coach back to take them through it. “As much as anything, I missed the daily interaction with everyone there,” Clifford said. “I’ve coached most of these guys for a long time. The base is already in place, and we will just need to get the details into the right place for the next game. I don’t need to reinvent anything or give a big motivational speech. I just want to get back to work, get back to our team. “I’m better now, and I’m going to be better in the long run. And I’ve missed it.”
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