No blame to assign for George's fate
The immediate reaction, the visceral instinct, is to lash out, to seek targets for what happened to Paul George last night in Las Vegas.
Blame USA Basketball for needing some of the best young players in the world to affirm its international standing. Never mind it was public pressure over previous embarrassments, most notably the 2002 World Championship in Indianapolis, that put such a high priority on these events.
Blame the NBA for encouraging those players to essentially donate their time. Never mind it is a noble gesture to represent your country, particularly when the primary compensation is wearing the national colors in competition.
Blame the Thomas & Mack Center for having basket supports that seem a little too close to the floor. Never mind the thousands of games that have been played in that building, including dozens just completed in the NBA Summer League, with no incidents of this nature.
Blame Larry Bird because, well, that’s what people tend to do when anything goes wrong, or doesn’t go right enough, with the Pacers. Just never mind.
Sorry, but it’s just not that easy. What makes this situation so saddening, so maddening, so completely frustrating is there is no one, no organization, no physical structure, at fault.
When George’s right leg snapped in a gruesome moment in the fourth quarter of a USA Basketball intrasquad scrimmage, it represented the cold, cruel reality of any sport: no matter how many precautions are in place, no matter how many protective rules are written, injuries happen.
That this one was so heinous, so comprehensive, so devastating made it next to impossible to face, let alone accept, that particular truth.
George sustained an open tibia-fibula fracture that required surgery last night and will remain hospitalized for approximately three days.
George's leg appeared to snap above the ankle when he landed against the basket support, he crumpled to the floor and the arena fell silent while he was treated for several minutes – his parents at his side – before being wheeled off the court on a stretcher and to a nearby hospital.
“Our first thoughts are with Paul and his family,” Bird said in a statement released Saturday morning by the Pacers. “It is way too early to speculate on his return as the No. 1 priority for everyone will be his recovery. Our initial discussions with our doctors and the doctors in Las Vegas have us very optimistic. We are hopeful at some point next week Paul will return to Indianapolis to continue his recovery.
“There is no question about the impact on our team but our goal is to be as strong-willed and determined as Paul will be in coming back. Our franchise has had setbacks in its history but has demonstrated the abilities to recover. Paul will provide the example of that off the court and it is up to the rest of us to provide that example on the court. Any discussion regarding the future of our team would be inappropriate at this time. Our focus is solely on Paul and doing whatever we can to help.
“We still support USA Basketball and believe in the NBA's goals of exposing our game, our teams and players worldwide. This is an extremely unfortunate injury that occurred on a highly-visible stage, but could also have occurred anytime, anywhere.
“Finally, the Pacers would like to thank our fans and the NBA community for their outreach of support in the brief amount of time since the injury occurred. It has been overwhelming and it is what makes Indiana and the NBA special.”
Twitter was flooded with words of encouragement from current and former players. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver issued a statement of support.
The most uplifting words came in a tweet from George himself:
“Thanks everybody for the love and support.. I'll be ok and be back better than ever!!! Love y'all!!”
And the scrimmage, of course, was stopped.
“Our first concern, our primary concern is Paul George,” said Jerry Colangelo, the USA Basketball managing director. “I want to reach out to the Indiana Pacers organization. Have a call into owner Herb Simon. This is a tough blow for not only USA Basketball, but for the Indiana Pacers. … When you have something like this take place, it puts things in perspective.”
Of course, the Pacers are no longer championship contenders, if ever they truly were. Assuming George is ruled out for the season, they can apply for a Disabled Player Exception, which would allow them to sign one player for a maximum of the average player salary.
But there simply is no way to replace the face of the franchise.
All of that, for the moment, seems trivial, and there will be plenty of time to pondering.
“Look, anything can happen anywhere,” said USA Basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski. “A lot of things happen, and tonight, it happened during a basketball game, and we need to take care of that. That doesn’t mean it’ll happen again and again and again. It means that it happened right now and we need to take care of right now, appropriately and move on.”
Taking care of it is one thing. Moving on, well, that’s going to take some time.