The most important role player in the NBA Finals is a man you have likely never heard of.
Dr. Jeffrey Kutcher, the director of the league’s concussion program that was put into place four years ago, will play a major part in deciding Golden State Warriors guard Klay Thompson’s playing status for Game 1 of the NBA Finals after he suffered a concussion in Game 5 of the Western Conference finals last week.
Unlike the many coaches, teammates, family members and fans who are hoping against hope that their team can win it all for the first time since 1975, Kutcher’s only concern is Thompson’s long-term health. And after all the progress that has been made regarding head injuries the past few years, Kutcher – who directs the sports neurology program at the University of Michigan and is widely considered a leader in his field – isn’t about to let the momentum stop now.
“Just the idea that the NBA has a neurologist who does these things (pleases me),” Kutcher told USA TODAY Sports in a phone interview. “Look at 10 years ago, and nobody was even talking about these kinds of things.
“I’m happy we’ve come as far as we have. I think we are doing a very good job of protecting athletes, and the one thing I would say is, the important thing is that every time we consider a concussion with an athlete, we take a step back and look at the overall picture of good brain health.”
The bigger picture, in other words, matters far more to him than Thursday’s game. Thompson returned to practice Monday, but has not yet been cleared for Game 1.