Gruesome Paul George Injury Reignites Debate About Merits Of NBAers Playing Internationally
NBA owners and execs had "grown weary of the toll taken on bodies" of players participating for USA Basketball long before Pacers F Paul George "crumpled to the court" after breaking his leg during an exhibition Friday, according to Adrian Wojnarowski of YAHOO SPORTS. George suffered a compound fracture of his right leg, and his situation "promises to be the center of the debate." However, the fight "to get players out of international basketball had never been about the catastrophic injury, nor USA Basketball" until now. One NBA GM said, "This could be a game-changer for international basketball." Wojnarowski reported the incident also "promises to reignite a fight for control of FIBA's future that the NBA's determined to reshape to its own interests." USA Basketball had "never been the center of the NBA's concern, but George transforms that dynamic now." NBA owners and execs previously had been more reluctant "to turn stars over to European and South American, African and Asian national teams" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 8/2). NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said following the George injury, "I don't anticipate a major shift in the NBA's participation in international competitions. Of course, there's no doubt that this will be a hot topic at our next NBA Competition meeting in September and our Board of Governors' meeting in October and we will continue to evaluate the pros and cons of participating in international tournaments" (USA TODAY, 8/4). ESPN.com's Marc Stein noted since taking over for David Stern in February, Silver has "repeatedly reiterated the league's longstanding desire to try to make basketball the world's No. 1 sport, which is one of the prime motivations for the NBA to keep sending players to international events" (ESPN.com, 8/3).
TEAMS COULD ASK FOR MORE PROTECTION: ESPN's Stein reported NBA teams now are "going to want more control, more protection" over players participating in international competitions. The only way teams currently "can stop guys from playing internationally is if there's a preexisting injury concern." That is why the Spurs did not allow G Manu Ginobili to play for Argentina in the World Cup. The George injury is the "worst fear for every NBA team, but also don't forget in really the two decades plus since the 'Dream Team' showed up, this is the first major injury involving an American player." It is "hard at this early stage to project exactly what the reaction will be, but it's not as simple as one injury happens and suddenly all NBA players are off the table for international competition" ("SportsCenter," ESPN, 8/2). In Indianapolis, Bob Kravitz noted there has "been momentum for some time to do away with NBA players performing on national teams." Mavericks Owner Mark Cuban has "been very outspoken in the past in expressing his disdain" for Mavericks F Dirk Nowitzki playing for the German national team (INDIANAPOLIS STAR, 8/3). ESPN.com's Shelburne & Windhorst wrote the risk involved with NBA players participating in international competition "has long been an issue bubbling below the surface, forgotten during opening ceremonies and on medal stands but sure to flare up again now and perhaps threaten the fantastic capital" that USA Basketball Chair Jerry Colangelo has built by "transforming the program over the past eight years" (ESPN.com, 8/2). But the Boston Globe's Bob Ryan said, "This is a toothpaste that's out of the tube. It was squeezed out by David Stern and they are not putting it back in. ... This international competition is here to stay. It is about business. The global branding of the NBA is why the NBA feels it's valuable and useful. I don't see how that's going to change" ("The Sports Reporters," ESPN, 8/3).
CUBAN HOPES INJURY SENDS MESSAGE: In Dallas, Eddie Sefko wrote Cuban is hoping George's injury "pushes the NBA to a higher resolve when it comes to allowing its players to participate in international competition that does not benefit the league." Cuban hopes the incident "sends a strong message to owners about the dangers of players dipping into the international pool." He also hopes at the very least that the NBA "feels empowered to conduct its own international tournament rather than allowing its players to play for their country in tournaments with little or no benefit to the NBA or its teams." Cuban: "It’s a bigger issue than star players. We are being taken advantage of by the IOC and to a lesser extent FIBA." He added, "New owners have paid considerably more for their teams and have different expectations than the owners they replaced. I’m hoping they won’t accept the value of participating in FIBA tournaments and the Olympics on faith. I hope they want quantifiable returns for the risk we all are taking. That could create change" (DALLAS MORNING NEWS, 8/3). Cuban added, "The greatest trick ever played was the IOC convincing the world that the Olympics were about patriotism and national pride instead of money. The players and owners should get together and create our own World Cup of Basketball." Cuban has "repeatedly railed against the inequities of a system that sees the NBA realize little tangible profit from competitions such as the Olympic basketball tournament, or this summer's FIBA World Cup, while absorbing all of the financial risk if the stars NBA teams furnish get hurt" (ESPN.com, 8/2).
PLAYERS TAKING A PASS: ESPN.com's J.A. Adande wrote the question now is whether George's injury "has become a tipping point, whether enough big-name players can't shake the image of George's lower leg sticking out at an acute angle that the Team USA rosters will no longer mirror the All-Star game starting lineups." One NBA agent said that he would "advise his players not to participate unless they've already secured their primary NBA goals (championships and money) and have less to lose" (ESPN.com, 8/1). In N.Y., Frank Isola wrote George's injury "won’t lead to a mass exodus" from int'l competition, but it "will have an impact." George "already has a max contract," but "what about the player who is one year away from free agency?" Do you "honestly believe any agent will encourage his client to spend the summer with the national team?" However, the idea that "playing for the national team is a risk no player should take is an overreaction to a horrible freak accident." NBA players "can get hurt just as easily during a pickup game at Rucker Park or in a charity game on a high school court" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 8/3). In San Diego, Ivan Carter wrote, "Don't fault other players for choosing to back out after witnessing what happened to George." Several notable NBA stars have "already decided to take the summer off including potential USA performers" like Cavaliers F LeBron James and Lakers G Kobe Bryant (SAN DIEGO UNION-TRIBUNE, 8/3).
LIFE HAPPENS: The MORNING NEWS' Sefko wrote what "must be remembered" is that players like Thunder F Kevin Durant, Rockets G James Harden and Mavericks F Chandler Parsons "all take great pride in playing for America internationally." The NBA "should not legislate against players doing so." But if individual players "make decisions not to play, so be it" (DALLAS MORNING NEWS, 8/2). In Phoenix, Paola Boivin wrote George's injury will "bring out critics who question why the NBA would rent its best players to a national team." Boivin: "Stop. Now." When NBA players "weren't part of the Olympics Games, many couldn't stop whining about the injustice." Life happens, and the George injury "shouldn't impact how we feel about USA Basketball" (ARIZONA REPUBLIC, 8/3). SI.com's Phil Taylor wrote unless fans want to take NBA players and "lock them up in velvet cases once the season ends, there is no way to eliminate the risk of offseason injury." George was "representing his country, and that’s not a waste of time." In fact, the "inherent risk is part of what makes it meaningful" (SI.com, 8/2).