Former Celtics center Aron Baynes was ‘so scared’ he might become paralyzed after Olympics incident

"He was in a bad way. ... We were like, 'Is he going to be OK?'"

Aron Baynes
Australia's Aron Baynes takes a rest on the bench during a men's basketball practice at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. AP Photo/David Goldman

Former Celtics big man Aron Baynes hopes to make an NBA return after a scary incident during the Tokyo Olympics this past summer nearly left him paralyzed.

In a nerve-wracking story written by ESPN’s Brian Windhorst, Baynes — who played two productive years with the Celtics in 2017-18 and 2018-19 — outlined how he lost the ability to walk in the middle of a game against Italy and the confusion that followed.

Baynes left the court to use the bathroom and never returned. Concerned coaches went looking for him and found him passed out on the floor with puncture wounds from two hooks in the wall. When a groggy Baynes tried to walk to the toilets, he fell down and medics realized he had lost the use of his legs. Shortly after, Baynes realized he couldn’t use his left arm or even use the bathroom.


“My uncle Don had an accident 10 years ago,” Baynes told Windhorst. “He’s a quadriplegic. My family’s had first-hand experience with this going down. I was so scared.”

Teammates filed in after the game and quickly realized Baynes was in trouble.

“He was in a bad way,” Matthew Dellavedova told Windhorst. “At first it was like, ‘Can he play in the rest of the tournament?’ And then we were like, ‘Is he going to be OK?'”

The full accounting of Baynes’ experience is worth a read. He spent weeks in a Japanese hospital and was at first largely unable to communicate with nurses and doctors. Upon arrival, he managed to comprehend that there was too much pressure on his spine using his phone to translate messages. Simultaneously, he tried to communicate with his agent and his family.

Eventually, Baynes learned he had internal bleeding, which put pressure on his spinal cord — potentially a result of a fall in the layup line three days prior after he applied too much hand sanitizer and tried to dunk. He needed two weeks to recover before the swelling went down enough to send him home to Australia (he was anesthetized for the eight-hour flight), after which he was forced to quarantine for two more weeks before he could see the rest of his family.


Soon after, Baynes began an intensive rehabilitation program. Six months later, Baynes told Windhorst he is doing much better and hopes to play in the NBA next season.

“If you saw me now, you wouldn’t know anything happened,” Baynes said.

Baynes — now 35 — averaged a career-high 11.5 points and 5.6 rebounds in 2019-20. He most recently played for the Raptors.


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