Indiana Pacers all-star forward Paul George is “resting comfortably” after having successful surgery to repair a compound fracture in his right leg early Saturday morning in Las Vegas, according to a statement released by USA Basketball.
George suffered an open tibia and fibula fracture a few hours earlier during a Team USA intrasquad scrimmage at UNLV’s Thomas and Mack Center and the injury brought a sobering end to the game and a week-long training session in preparation for the FIBA World Cup.
After leaving the arena on a stretcher, with rattled teammates looking on in shock and fans applauding, George was rushed to Sunrise Hospital in Las Vegas, where he immediately underwent surgery. Dr. David Silverberg, Dr. Joseph Yu and Riley Williams, team physician for USA Basketball and the Brooklyn Nets, were present for the procedure.
George is expected to remain hospitalized for the next three days, according to the statement.
With 9 minutes, 33 seconds left in the game, George contested a layup by Houston Rockets all-star guard James Harden. George leaped in front of Harden and stretched out his right leg, which immediately bent perpendicular to his body after his foot crashed into the bottom of the basket stanchion. The stanchion at Thomas and Mack Center is much closer – by two feet and two inches – to the baseline than NBA arenas which likely contributed to the gruesome injury, providing little room for a safe landing.
George’s teammates were visibly upset as medical staffers tended to him. Some looked away. Others buried their heads in towels or their hands. At one point, the players and coaches huddled to pray for George. After a nearly 10-minute delay, the game was called with George’s Blue team losing 81-71 to the White team.
“Thanks everybody for the love and support,” George wrote on Twitter. “I’ll be ok and be back better than ever!!! Love y’all!!”
Pacer team president Larry Bird issued a statement on Saturday that read, “Our first thoughts are with Paul and his family. 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.”
After a miserable bronze medal showing in the 2004 Olympics in Athens, Jerry Colangelo took over as USA Basketball managing director and convinced the game’s best players to make international competitions a priority, establishing a pipeline that produced gold medal wins at the Beijing Olympics in 2008, the FIBA world championship in Istanbul in 2010 and the London Olympics in 2012.
NBA executives have debated for years the merits of having the game’s best players participating in international competitions. In the past 10 years, some of the game’s biggest stars have had major setbacks while representing their countries; Pau Gasol, then a member of the Memphis Grizzlies, broke his foot while leading Spain to the 2006 world championship and San Antonio Spurs forward Manu Ginobili injured his ankle while playing for Argentina in the 2008 Olympics.
Dwyane Wade and Ray Allen sparked some controversy two years ago for suggesting a few months before the London Olympics that star players should be paid for participating. Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban was been one of the most outspoken critics of the policy given the risk for injury. Mavericks forward Chandler Parsons, however, is currently trying out for the team.
Pacers general manager Kevin Pritchard traveled to the hospital with George’s parents. In his statement, Bird, a member of the original Dream Team that featured NBA players in 1992, said, “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.”
A two-time all-star who averaged 21.7 points, 6.8 rebounds and 3.5 assists while leading the Pacers to the best record in the Eastern Conference and the conference finals last season, George was expected to make the 12-man roster. He didn’t have any previous international experience but was a candidate to start alongside league most valuable player Kevin Durant. Durant, George and Harden had concluded the last two practices by playing one-on-one games and developing chemistry.
“We all just want to get better,” George explained after Thursday’s practice. “We all love the game of basketball. It’s another opportunity to get better and work on some things and improve on things going into next season.”
Team USA has lost several talented players in recent weeks. All-stars Russell Westbrook, Blake Griffin, Kevin Love and LaMarcus Aldridge and NBA Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard recently withdrew from the competition.
USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo and Coach Mike Krzyzewski had planned to reduce the 20-man pool to 14 or 15 players on Saturday but those decisions have been put on hold. The FIBA World Cup begins on Aug. 30 in Spain and a victory would guarantee a spot in the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
“We just want, we need to step away,” Colangelo said. “This is a very tough blow, not so much about us, but about Paul, it’s a first for us in USA basketball to have something like this take place.”
Team USA hasn’t been immune to devastating injuries, with Griffin going down in 2012 with a torn meniscus that required surgery and a three-month recovery. Griffin returned in time for training camp but George could potentially miss the entire 2014-15 season while recovering. The Pacers will be without their best player for an extended time after already losing Lance Stephenson to Charlotte in free agency.
George’s injury brought back images of former Louisville player Kevin Ware, whose leg snapped during the 2013 NCAA Tournament. Krzyzewski was coaching Duke in that game against Louisville.
“Anything can happen anywhere, a lot of things happen,” Krzyzewski said. “Tonight it happened during a basketball game. We need to take care of that. It 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 then move on.”