SAN ANTONIO -- For maybe the first time in his life, T.J. Ford is choosing to be cautious.
The Raptors point guard, whose basketball career has been full speed ahead since the day he laced up his first pair of kicks, is feeling 90% pain-free these days.
At the same time, he said he'll give his body some time to recover from a series of stingers, the latest of which saw him carted off an NBA basketball court for the second time in his career 17 days ago in Atlanta.
Not even Ford can say for sure how much time that will require. What he does know is that he's not going to rush things.
"I think my body just needs to recover and relax," Ford said yesterday. "That's all I want to do right now is relax. Being taken out on a stretcher, it's definitely tough to just hop right back into it a week later after your body just went through a big shock.
"Right now ... it's just let my body calm down and when I feel my body is right, we will go to the next step."
The first time Ford took the stretcher route off the hardwood was almost his last.
The injury he sustained Feb. 24, 2004 -- a bruised spinal cord -- required surgery and cost him the remaining 26 games of that season, the playoffs and all of the next year as a member of the Milwaukee Bucks.
Then there was the playoff incident last spring when New Jersey's Vince Carter came down hard on Ford, who was already down on the court, resulting in a stinger.
This season, another incident occurred -- a little more than five weeks ago -- when he took a hard shot to his chest in a game at Dallas and again a stinger was the result.
This latest time around, surgery was not required, but as Ford pointed out, he did have to be taken off the court immobilized on a stretcher and spent the night in hospital.
That act of being strapped on to a backboard and rushed off to hospital in an ambulance made what happened in Atlanta different than either of the previous two incidents for the Houston native and it's why he's taking his time before he gets back on the court.
After all, there's no point at all in trying to become a hero.
Ford made an appearance at the Raptors morning practice yesterday, and while still walking gingerly, he looked substantially better than he did before he left the team just before Christmas to visit some specialists in first Los Angeles and then New York.
The specialists don't appear to have told Ford anything he didn't already know or suspect. And the news was good.
His spinal cord has not been further damaged. His risks are no different today than they were the day before Atlanta's Al Horford sent him crashing to the court with a hard blow to the top of his head and forehead.
The only difference is this one got Ford's attention like no injury since that 2004 collision in a game against the Minnesota Timberwolves.
"Yeah, it scared me," Ford said of the Atlanta incident. "I always said I didn't want (being carried off on a stretcher) to happen to me again. I never cared what else happened but never that.
"I put a lot of thought into not having (that happen) again. It puts a scare in my family because they are not there.
"Imagine your mom or your dad seeing that on TV. That's tough. It's definitely not easy." So Ford will take his time on the road to recovery.
He will not rush back as he did after the incident in Dallas.
Ford said the decision of where and when to return is one he will make alone.
Family can't help with this one, he said, because no one has gone through what he has gone through.
"It's a tough situation but I think I will definitely bounce back," Ford said.