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How and why Marquis Daniels returned to Celtics

12.19.11 at 2:22 pm ET
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Throughout his career, Marquis Daniels has been no stranger to pain. When he was 11 years old, the Celtics forward’s older cousins branded his No. 4 on his arm. It hurt. A lot. And that was just the beginning.

From birth, whenever he did so much as put his head down and raise it back up, a stinger shot down his arm. The 30-year-old Daniels didn’t realize his narrowed spinal canal caused the issue until reaching the NBA eight years ago. And he didn’t know the severity of his medical condition until this past February, when he bumped into Magic guard Gilbert Arenas, dropped to the parquet floor and lay motionless for what seemed like an eternity.

“To be honest, I barely touched him,” said Daniels. “The scariest part was just lying there and not being able to move for that time I was down on the floor. That was pretty scary. I could talk. I just couldn’t move. I was like, ‘This isn’t happening. I gotta get up. I can’t raise my kids like this.’ Just to be here standing and walking and talking to you guys now just lets you know that it’s more than just basketball, I don’t take anything for granted now.”

That’s why this time around in Boston is different for Daniels. Not just because he’s donning his third Celtics jersey number in as many seasons. For the first time in a long time, he can just play basketball — pain (and worry) free — like that 11-year-old kid who got the same number branded on his arm.

“It’€™s a second chance at more than just basketball. I can say at life,” said Daniels, who scored 11 points in both Friday’s scrimmage and Sunday’s preseason game. “It could have went either way. I could have been rolling in here instead of walking and talking to you guys, so I’€™m blessed to be where I’€™m at right now.”

There were times over the past 10 months Daniels wondered whether moments like those on Friday and Sunday would ever happen again. First came the surgery in Atlanta on March 30, a two-hour process that involved doctors shaving vertebrae, cutting through his spine and placing three screws and a stint in it to widen the canal.

“They had to give me double dosage of whatever the medicine was,” said Daniels. “They said I was fighting it.” No surprise there. What was a surprise was the sound of Kevin Garnett joking, “Ah, get up from that bed,” echoing down the hospital corridor. Garnett and a number of other Celtics — including Rajon Rondo, Paul Pierce, Avery Bradley and some coaches — stopped by while in town to play the Hawks on April 1.

“You really didn’t know what to expect with Marquis,” said Celtics captain Paul Pierce. “Me and Marquis had a chance to talk over the summer, and I had a chance to visit him in the hospital, so I really kept close tabs on how his health was. I’m just happy he’s able to get back on the basketball court, because at the time there was a lot talk about him not being able to play the game again. So, for him to just be able to step out on the court, it’s a true blessing for him. And for him to be back as a Celtic, it’s great.”

Whether or not Daniels would resume playing basketball may have been up for debate, but there was never a question where he would play should he ever return to the court. “This was definitely my first option here,” said Daniels. “It’€™s a great tradition here, great team support.”

Getting healthy enough to return to the Celtics was a whole different story. It took six weeks after the surgery before he could resume working out and another few months before he shot a basketball again.

“My first workout was brutal,” said Daniels. “I almost was like, ‘You know what? I don’t want to play anymore. This is it.’ I felt like I was having a panic attack. I was overheating. I had to put icepacks all over me to calm down. The surgery, the way I had it, it affected my breathing, so I had to catch my breath. Now, I’m fine.”

Once again, Daniels fought through the pain, resuming basketball in late August and even participating in a few exhibition games during the fall, including Rondo’s Boston Charity Classic at Harvard University in November.

“I think [the NBA lockout] was a blessing in disguise for me,” he said. “If we had started on time, I probably would still be rehabbing and trying to get myself back ready, but I had some extra time to get ready and be prepared.”

Daniels asked his doctor “a million times” if they were sure he was healthy enough to play again, and the doctor reassured him each time, “I’m positive that there’s a slim chance of that ever happening again.” If Daniels needed any more convincing, a headbutt he suffered during a pickup game at Auburn University did just that.

“I was bleeding, but I was like, ‘Well, my neck’s Ok,’” he said, adding, “It feels a lot better. I’m not limited or anything. I don’t worry about getting hit, so I just go out there and play my game. I’m a hockey player, so I’ll be all right. It takes a lot to take me out.”

Pretty soon, the lockout came to an end, Celtics president Danny Ainge was already reaching out to his agent, Mark Bartelstein, and Daniels found himself at Celtics training camp for a third consecutive season.

“I’€™m amazed that you haven’€™t noticed any difference, honestly. … He’s playing great,” said Celtics head coach Doc Rivers. “He’€™s just moving well. I see that more. I definitely would say he’s posting up more, and that’s what we want anyway. But he’s not afraid of anything, taking charges or being physical, so that’s great.”

Added Pierce, “He really doesn’t seem like he missed a beat.”

The only difference Daniels notices is the lack of pain. He feels stronger than ever, and he’s confident the injury woes that limited him to just 100 games over his first two seasons in Boston are over. In fact, his doctor told him even the thumb injury he suffered during the 2009-10 season could be traced back to the spinal issue.

“God works in mysterious ways,” he said. “I thank God. I’m here now, and I’m able to complete and still play.”

Oddly, the Celtics need Daniels now more than ever, as Jeff Green‘s season-ending heart surgery requires someone to fill the void left behind Pierce at small forward. And No. 4 is just fine filling that role again.

Said Daniels: “I felt like I had some unfinished business here.”

Read More: Boston Celtics, Doc Rivers, Marquis Daniels, Paul Pierce
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