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Former Coug Aron Baynes details harrowing health scare

The Olympic Games-Tokyo 2020 Photo by Tim Clayton/Corbis via Getty Images

Cougs of certain generations remember Aron Baynes rumbling up and down Friel Court during the Tony Bennett years. The big Aussie was a wrecking ball in the paint, and after a four-year career playing in Europe, he made his way to the NBA where he won a championship with San Antonio in 2014.

Baynes has played for five NBA teams and was a key player for Australia’s Olympics team last summer in Tokyo. That’s where things got very scary for Baynes after he took a bathroom break between the third and fourth quarters of Australia’s game against Italy.

As told to ESPN in this must-read story, a simple bathroom break suddenly turned, well, anything but simple:

It was a long way to the bathroom in the Saitama Super Arena outside Tokyo, and Baynes had gone to use it between the third and fourth quarters. He had to go diagonally across the court, down a hallway and a flight of stairs. It still didn’t make sense. Baynes had left running so as not to miss the start of the final frame.

Concerned, one of the staff members went to look for him, tracing Baynes’ steps. As he did, the staffer found him. In the locker room on a tile floor near the bathroom, the 6-foot-10 Baynes was sprawled on the floor, blood on his uniform and on the floor from two deep, inexplicable puncture wounds in his upper arm.

Baynes couldn’t walk, and he suddenly turned into a House M.D. case. Being a big Aussie in a Tokyo hospital, there was obviously a culture clash and a language barrier. Doctors did discover internal bleeding and spinal pressure, and Baynes was finally able to connect with an Australian doctor to get a plan going.

As you may know, Baynes is a massive human, and doctors and nurses had to combine two beds so he could rest comfortably in a small room. Still, Baynes was in a rough spot.

“I couldn’t cope. I was like a combination of burning, fire, knives,” Baynes told ESPN. “I needed the pain meds, but they knocked me out immediately, so I had to time it around the games. The nurses showed me so much compassion.”

The Australian doctor put him on a course that eventually got him healthy, but it wasn’t easy. He was forced to watch his teammates win bronze from his hospital room. The team doctor and trainer were only allowed to visit him for 15 minutes each day.

This, however, didn’t deter two of his teammates of sneaking into the hospital:

.....teammates Dellavedova and Nathan Sobey came to the hospital to bring Baynes his medal. He was better. The swelling on his spine had decreased and he was getting stronger with therapy. The hospital allowed him to see the team doctor and the athletic trainer for 15 minutes a day. Dellavedova and Sobey had posed as doctors to get past security.

“It was a pretty emotional visit, you know?” Dellavedova says. “It had been such a long journey for us to get there and he was such a big part of the program. There were a few tears. I don’t want to get in trouble with the Japanese officials, but I’m glad we were able to get in there.”

Baynes jokes: “Delly got an online degree.”

Finally, some levity to the story. Can you picture two Australian basketball players posing as doctors in a Tokyo hospital to get past security? I mean, didn’t anybody think that they might be pulling a fast one?

Anyway, Baynes was able to stand on his own on his 11th day in the hospital, and he continued to improve, thankfully. Still, though, the emotional toll was huge:

He was so excited that he FaceTimed his wife. When she answered he saw his youngest of three children, his 6-month-old daughter, learning to do the same. He began to cry.

Getting home was brutal. A special medical plane was chartered for the 4,000-mile flight. In order to keep him safe, doctors determined he’d need to be strapped down on his back and anesthetized for the entire eight-hour flight. When he finally got home to Brisbane, he had to be stretchered to an ambulance because he still couldn’t walk. Because of Australia’s strict COVID-19 protocols, he had to go into a mandatory two-week quarantine in a local hospital and was still unable to see his family.


The whole health scare was traced back to Baynes landing awkwardly during sescond half warmups in the Aussie’s game against Nigeria.

Baynes had a long road of rehab ahead of him, but today he continues his rehab with dreams of playing in the NBA once again. Baynes, who is remembered for a lot of things during his WSU days, particularly his 10-for-10 night in a 2OT win over USC in 2007 and that one time he made a three-pointer, is one of WSU’s coolest stories—from committing to WSU after never stepping in Pullman, to being bloodied in a win at Gonzaga and acting like nothing had ever happened, to that one time he threw down a breakaway dunk after a steal (that sequence is ingrained in my head).

Here’s to better days ahead for Aron Baynes.


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