Last night was rough man…
In Las Vegas, the United States Men’s Basketball team put on an inter-squad scrimmage that featured 20 of the NBA’s best players trying to make a 12 spot roster on the USA national team that will participate in the FIBA tournament that starts at the end of August. If you are a basketball fan, the USMNT has become front page news as we have had many amazing stories spotlighted after an incredible NBA off-season of free agent moves. First there was the return of Derrick Rose, who has been sensational sense joining the team this summer. There is a strong arm of guards on the US team which features Steph Curry, D Rose, Damian Lillard, James Harden, Kyrie Irving, Paul George, Bradley Beal, John Wall, and Klay Thompson all trying for guard spots on the squad. All of those guards can’t make the final team, so some great players are going to be getting cut and heading home. Then there is the ascension of Anthony Davis, who current league MVP Kevin Durant thinks is on his way to an MVP title. He will be the starting big man on Team USA. And then there is the rise of Mason Plumlee, who was a rookie with the Brooklyn Nets this past season who has been coached by Coach K at Duke and may actually beat out the more talented DeMarcus Cousins, for the backup center spot. Last night’s exhibition game, being displayed on national television on ESPN was supposed to be a prime time display of amazing talent. The basketball community was waiting for it’s opportunity to see these players showcase their skills in an actual game. I personally couldn’t wait for it.
The game started and immediately you got your money’s worth. D Rose looked great. Harden was knocking down jumpers. Beal showed his finesse from the perimeter. Lillard, Kyrie, DeMar Derozen showed off their extreme athleticism. Heads were balling in Vegas. And then out of nowhere, this happened…
The room got quiet. The players faces showcased horror. You felt your body shriek. You felt scared. You felt terrified. And you felt absolutely horrible for Paul George, the Indiana Pacers superstar player who suffered an unthinkable freak injury in an exhibition game that was basically already over. George, was simply trying to make a play. George, one of the top athletes in the sport and a genuinely awesome guy, was trying to make a roster spot like the other 19 individuals he was playing with. You can’t fault his determination. You can’t fault his drive. He was trying to make a great defensive play. But this is what happens in sports, unpredictability and injuries. There is nothing more defeating that seeing your favorite sports player lying on the ground in agony and in pain. First off, you care about this individual’s well being. George fractured his tibia and fibula on that play. My initial thought was, he’s never going to be the same. Do I know this? Of course not. And the mind can do a lot to help with the recovery of the body, but damn, that was gruesome. George underwent surgery last night. Apparently there was no additional damage besides the fractures but doctors believe George will miss all of next season. (Sorry Pacers fans…you are now officially in rebuilding mode) That alone is a huge blow to the Pacers organization. Now you can see why the Minnesota Timberwolves won’t allow Kevin Love to participate in the FIBA championships. Injuries happen. They are freak and they can be detrimental, not only to the player themselves, but to an organizations championship hopes. This injury reminded me of the one that Kevin Ware suffered for Louisville. It was so hard to watch. The replay was frightening. I had a deja-vu moment of that last night with Paul George.
Just look at Derrick Rose, former MVP of the league and the face of the Chicago Bulls. He has had two major freak injuries that have allowed him to only play 10 games over the past two seasons. He tore his ACL in game 1 of the NBA playoffs versus the Philadelphia 76ers in 2012 and had to sit out the entire 2012-2013 season rehabilitating. He then came back at the beginning of the 2013-2014 season, played 10 games and tore his meniscus on November 22nd in a regular season game versus the Portland TrailBlazers.
Both injuries donkey punched the basketball world, especially for Bulls fans and their franchise. It probably was the major reason they weren’t successful in advancing in the playoffs because Rose brings so much offense to his team. He, like Paul George, is the centerpiece for his franchise, so the loss of that player is something that is extremely hard to overcome. Rose, took his time to recover, ignoring the press and the constant speculation that he was ready to return before he was physically and mentally ready. Paul George will probably face that pressure to return before he’s actually ready. But he needs to take his time. No one will know his body better than he does. Recovery is a long and strenuous process. He is still very young and has a long future ahead of him if he can recover from this. He just needs to take his time.
Injuries happen all over sports. In football, they happens all the time. One of the major points that the players union had when the topic of expanding the regular season came up in labor negotiations was to not add any more games. There are just too many injuries that players sustain over the course of a season. And in the NFL, those contracts aren’t guaranteed. Running back David Wilson of the New York Giants is a prime example of a freak injury that went bad. He suffered a serious neck injury week 5 in a game versus the Philadelphia Eagles. Wilson was diagnosed with spinal stenosis, and the injury was thought to be career ending. The play in which Wilson was injured, was a routine play. Wilson spent the entire year rehabbing his injury and was finally cleared for physical contact and team activities this month. Last week he suffered a neck burner in practice and is now being held out indefinitely. His career now may be over. There have been many huge football names, such as Tom Brady, Julio Jones, Adrian Peterson, Tony Romo, Jeremy Macklin to name a few, who have had serious season ending injuries over the past couple of seasons. Players tear their ACL’s often, and the recovery time for that injury alone is 9 months to a year. They can be severe and crippling to a team’s success. Look at Tiger Woods. Woods, is arguably one of the best golfers of all time. He has suffered a laundry list of injuries over his career. The most recent was to his back. He had back surgery in 2014 and has somewhat rushed his return to the sport. He hasn’t faired well since coming back and may never be the player that he once was.
Athletic competition at it’s best is amazing to watch. Professional athletes put on visual spectacles for us that we sometimes can’t believe what we are seeing. Raw talent and artistry is always celebrated when it’s done well and successfully. But no athlete ever tries to get injured. No athlete steps on the court or the playing field and does something to get themselves seriously hurt. That is just the nature of sports. Sports are unpredictable and injuries are unfortunately a part of them. Paul George wanted to represent his country and play alongside some of the best athletes in his sport. These players are his brothers, his friends, and his colleagues. He was trying to make a hell of a defensive play in that fourth quarter of yesterday’s scrimmage. He didn’t do anything wrong. I don’t begrudge him for going hard to make a team that is important to him. He just unfortunately got hurt. But I hope he will come back a better, stronger player from this. He has the love of the NBA community pulling for him. He has the love of his family and friends. And he has the love and support of anyone who has ever considered themselves an athlete, who understands when you play any sport, you play it hard and to the best of your ability. We can all understand his pain. But he will get through this. Life is unpredictable, and sometime deals you a bad hand, but through strong will and determination, anything can happen. We root for you Paul George. We root for you.