Only a few days have passed since it occured, but by now you have probably seen or heard about what happened to Paul George. The gruesome injury has been replayed and discussed on all forms of news media. It was reminiscent of another grisly injury that took place a couple of years ago to Louisville’s Kevin Ware during March Madness. Team USA held an inter-squad scrimmage at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas. It gave fans a chance to witness what Team USA had in store for this year’s FIBA World Championships. During the fourth quarter, Paul George attempted to chase down James Harden’s layup. What happened next would shake up the basketball universe. On his way down from trying to block the shot, his right foot hit the stanchion and the awkward landing resulted in an open tibia-fibula fracture. George is expected to miss all of next season as he tries to recover from his injury. This is a big blow to USA Basketball as well as the Indiana Pacers. In light of recent events, discussions regarding reform to international basketball have reemerged.
Maybe it’s time to go back to how it once was – sending amateur college stars and young guns to compete in the Olympics and other international tournaments. Keep the stars and big names out of it. Owners have anonymously commented on how anxious and nervous they get when they see their highly paid players run up and down the court for international games. However, there’s one NBA owner who is not afraid to share his thoughts with the public when it comes to FIBA, the Olympics, or any other international competitions. Mark Cuban, owner of the Dallas Mavericks, is known for “telling it like it is.” He is never afraid to give his honest opinion and he has been one of the most outspoken people when it comes to changing how the NBA handles international play.
Cuban doesn’t like the risk involved when it comes to watching his players represent their national teams. Dirk Nowitzki, who has been the face of the Mavericks franchise for many years, has recently just retired from international play. However, he has represented Team Germany numerous times. With that comes the wear and tear for being the star of a team with little depth. He has had to carry and lead the Germany squad for years through games, scrimmages, and practices. This is all taking place during the short NBA offseason. With basically little to no time to rest, players who play internationally don’t get that time to reenergize for the demanding NBA season. NBA teams and owners don’t like that idea of players putting in extra mileage for extracurricular activity. The San Antonio Spurs kept Manu Ginobili from participating in this year’s FIBA World Championship for Argentina, citing that he needs to recover from an injury.
While it is rather selfish that NBA teams are in it for their own good, it is very understandable. Owners who share the same opinions and beliefs as Cuban just want to be able to protect their investment – after all, money talks. Not only do the Indiana Pacers’ hopes for a deep run into the playoffs or even a championship look slim, but Paul George does not come at a cheap price either. George’s contract is worth up to $92 million over the course of five years. It has been reported that he will cost them up to $16.5 million for this upcoming season, which is a lot of money going down the drain. One of Cuban’s main arguments is that FIBA and IOC get all of the money and financial gain. In this case, they are gaining profit at the Pacers’ (and the rest of the NBA’s) expense. The NBA doesn’t get anything from international play. Basically, FIBA and the IOC get to rent high-profile players for free. Cuban is calling for change and that the NBA hosts their own World Cup, where they will be free from the international committees.
Not everyone is against international basketball, and the Indiana Pacers seem to be handling it all like good sports. Team president Larry Bird, who suited up for the blue and white in 1992 as a part of the Dream Team, issued a statement shortly after George’s injury, “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.” NBA Commissioner Adam Silver seems to be diverging into a different direction than his predecessor David Stern. Stern pondered upon the idea of making Olympic basketball for those 23 years of age and under only. Silver said, “”I don’t anticipate a major shift in the NBA’s participation in international competitions.” However, he did mention that it would be discussed at meetings in September and October.
The NBA needs to calm down. It was an unfortunate injury, and we are lucky that this is the first injury sustained from international play that will require an extended recovery time. Since 1992, when Team USA opened the doors to professionals, players may have had little nicks and sprains here and there, but nothing as bad as a season ending injury. This is just one terrible injury that happened at the wrong time. International play helps build the league’s brand. Look at the impact the 1992 Dream Team had on basketball and the millons of people who witnessed the 2008 Redeem Team take home gold medals. It is exciting to see each country’s best of the best go against each other. There is nothing like seeing NBA superstars like Lebron James, Kevin Durant, Chris Paul, Blake Griffin etc. team up together. Aside from the FIBA World Championship, the Olympics, and other international competitions, there is no other opportunity to see these great athletes play alongside one another to represent the USA. If you look at it outside of the USA, many stars take great pride in representing their country. Manu Ginobili would have played for Argentina if he could. Dirk Nowitzki did it for Germany for a number of years. There’s a sense of patriotism involved.
If the rules do change and Team USA goes back to fielding college amateurs, it would be a great disservice to basketball. The product would not be as good as it could be; people watch to see the best of the best. Olympic soccer currently has an age restriction, and no one cares about it as much as the World Cup for a reason. The same arguments can be applied to college athletes. Why should they risk injury to represent Team USA? They are playing in college with hopes to make it to the NBA, they don’t have the millions of dollars or the stability that the pros have. One injury like Paul George’s and their draft stock plummets. While the NBA would miss out on millions of dollars, a college player would lose much more. They would not only miss out on a big contract, but also on their future, especially in this day in age, where college basketball is all about the one-and-dones.
One of the main reasons why the 1992 Dream Team was assembled in the first place was to relieve the public outcry. People were simply tired of seeing the USA lose in world competitions at their own sport. If we go back to the way it was, the evolution of basketball is hindered and the sport takes a few steps back.
Get better soon Paul George.