Is it time for NBA stars to bypass international competition after Paul George’s broken leg?
By Steven Nichols
There was Indiana Pacers star Paul George, lying on his back in noticeable pain next to the basket stanchion. It’s a position no fan, coach or player wants to see an athlete in. The awkward landing of his right leg on the bottom of the stanchion after an attempt to contend a James Harden layup forced him to the ground and left him in a heap of trouble.
If you didn’t catch the game live, you caught the replays. You noticed the disheartened looks on the players’ faces. George’s leg was broken. And if you weren’t disgusted with injury itself, you certainly felt for George, a budding all-star on his way to super stardom, who’s risen in popularity thanks to his graceful ability.
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It isn’t known how long George will be out but it appears he’ll be sidelined for the entire 2014-2015. The Pacers’ star already had surgery to repair what was diagnosed as an open tibia-fibula fracture and is in the process of recovery.
In such a devastating blow to the Indiana Pacers, the NBA and USA basketball, the scene that occurred in the USA’s intrasquad scrimmage at the Thomas and Mack Center in Las Vegas Friday unfortunately raises the question whether or not the NBA’s top players should participate in USA basketball on an international scale.
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It’s been no secret that NBA owners and executives have held major reservations over the years for worst-case scenarios such as this. Since USA basketball has used NBA stars in 1992 with the inception of the Dream Team, no player has come up hobbled. You could easily exclaim that what occurred yesterday was an isolated incident because the past 22 years went so smoothly, but Friday’s situation can overwhelmingly be a tipping point for NBA executives to say it must save its players for the regular season.
You’d hate to say it’s a business decision but in many, many ways it’s exactly that.
Whether it’s a business decision or not, could you blame them?
The answer is no.
Detractors may argue that this was just a freak accident and a player takes this risk everyday, whether it’s on an NBA practice court, in a gym, at home or anywhere else during the offseason.
Detractors will undoubtedly point to the fact that George only broke his leg because the distance of the basket stanchion in relations to the baseline at the Thomas and Mack Center was much closer than what would be in the NBA.
To some extent they are right. The location of the basket support in the arena Friday didn’t provide much room for George to land. Had it been placed back to NBA standards may be George comes unscathed and we’re not talking about this.
We don’t really know if George would have came down flush on the hardwood and injured something else or not. And there’s always been substance about photographers in close proximity. But there’s a precedent now and all the owners would have to do to prevent its players regardless of the “Love the Game” clause is point to Friday’s video to show that their worry has been and will always be valid. That their point is just.
Ask yourself this question: if you were an NBA executive and your best player was playing for USA basketball this summer, would you want him to come home after what happened to Paul George?
And regardless of all the hoopla surrounding the play of Derrick Rose, as a Bulls fan did you feel a little worried for him prior to George’s injury, after all he’s been through? If you did, then it’s a good sign you’d be in favor of taking NBA players out of these non-NBA tournaments.
In many ways, with the FIBA championships set for August 30, USA basketball might be too late in the process to find replacements. That may draw the ire of 29 other teams who will want to protect their players and their business investment but USA basketball might be in a corner.
USA basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo said the focus was solely on George as of Friday night’s presser but in actuality there’s really nothing else they can do about the injury. What’s done is done. Paul’s had surgery already to repair the break and now he starts the long rehab.
Colangelo must shift his focus on player safety and health, and so too in estimation the arguments of 29 general managers and owners who have probably been in some contact with him. He seemed uneasy answering questions about it Friday night and refused to do so, which in many ways was too early to answer the critics. But it won’t hurt him to deal with the criticisms this early.
May be in some regard the NBA could go forward with its players participating in USA basketball and look at it as an isolated incident. If they can just get through FIBA without any problems, they can let the 2014-15 season begin and in the mean time figure out what to do about going forward with international play in the coming years.
Are exhibitions, FIBA tournaments and Olympic games more important than NBA seasons?
It’s a question we have to keep asking ourselves.
While head coach Mike Krzyzewski said it could happen anywhere and it doesn’t mean it’ll happen again and again in the future, Paul George loses an entire year of his career. The Indiana Pacers will likely not contend for a Central Division title, let alone an Eastern Conference title or an NBA championship. And the NBA loses a great basketball ambassador for a season.
Athletes like Kevin Ware and Brian Hartline have spoken out about their own injuries and how George will be fine. George is 24 and has a whole NBA career ahead of him. We’ve seen athletes come back from devastating injures before and sometimes stronger than ever.
Heck, in ironic fashion, Rose was on the same floor, let alone the same team when George broke his leg. Go figure.
There is risk involved and players take it and for the most part they turn out fine. May be a player doesn’t come away with an injury for the next five years. Or may be something happens at a scrimmage tomorrow. But now the NBA isn’t invincible.
Undoubtedly, prayers go out to George for a speedy recovery. The NBA is without one of its stars and if commissioner Adam Silver has been a progressive leader, Colangelo will have to address this in the proper way that ensures the safety of Silver’s players 100 percent, while keeping some sort of competitive edge for the USA.
May be going forward there’s nothing to worry. But with a new precedent it’s hard to keep both. This, with no question, will help tip the scale in favor of protecting the players whether the players like it or not.
Because no matter what side you are on about a player’s participation, you’d hate to see another game stopped, another crowd go silent and another athlete on the ground in pain with a devastating injury.