LAS VEGAS – Indiana Pacers all-star forward Paul George soared in front of James Harden to contest a breakaway layup, but when he landed, his right foot pressed awkwardly against the basket stanchion, his right leg snapped and in an instant, a Team USA showcase came to a nightmarish conclusion.
George’s gruesome leg injury shut down USA Basketball’s intrasquad scrimmage on Friday night at UNLV’s Thomas & Mack Center but the actual reverberations – for George’s career and for the involvement of star athletes in international competitions – won’t truly be known for some time.
After watching George taken out on a stretcher to loud applause, Coach Mike Krzyzewski announced to the crowd that out of respect to George and his family the game would be stopped, with 9 minutes, 33 seconds remaining and George’s Blue team trailing the White team, 81-71. The extent of George’s injury wasn’t immediately known; his leg appeared to fracture just above the ankle.
“This is a very tough blow, not so much about us, but about Paul,” USA Basketball managing director and chairman Jerry Colangelo said. “It’s a first for us in USA basketball to have something like this take place. It’s a tough situation for our entire organization, our coaches and players and very, very emotional. No way the game could’ve gone on, under the circumstances.”
Players sunk their heads into their hands or towels, so as not to look. A stunned Harden was frozen until he hunched down, buried his left fist into his face while leaning on his right hand for balance. Derrick Rose, swiftly turned his back, placed his hands on his head and darted toward for refuge near his bench. Kyrie Irving sought comfort from his father and sobbed into his arms.
Unable to look as medical staffers rushed to tend to George near their bench, players on the White team got up and ran down to the Blue team bench. The players and coaches wrapped their arms around each other, lowered their heads and prayed while fans in the arena began to chant, “USA! USA!”
“The main thing was just their concern for Paul,” Krzyzewski said of the gathering on the opposite bench. We “told them to relax. We felt at that point we should not go forward and not to worry about playing again. But let’s put all of our focus and all of our energy, whatever if you believe in a higher, someone up there above, let’s focus on that in regards to Paul.”
Once the huddle broke, the fans started a faint chant for George, whose father tried to console him. Players eventually mustered the courage to gather around George as a show of support and applauded him as he was carted away. George was taken to Sunrise Hospital in Las Vegas with his parents and Pacers General Manager Kevin Pritchard.
“We are aware of the injury sustained by Paul George in Friday night’s Team USA game in Las Vegas and we are obviously greatly concerned,” Pacers president Larry Bird said in a statement. “At this time our thoughts and prayers are with Paul. We are still gathering details and will have an updated statement Saturday.”
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver also released a statement that read: “It was difficult to watch the injury that Paul George sustained tonight while representing his country. The thoughts and prayers of all of us at the NBA are with Paul and his family.”
George was considered a lock to make the final 12-man roster for the FIBA World Cup, which starts later this month in Spain. The scrimmage was the final part of a week of training that was meant to culminate in the current 20-man roster being cut down to 15 players. Colangelo and Krzyzewski tabled any of those discussions.
“Everything is on hold right now, and it should be,” Krzyzewski said. “It would be so inappropriate for us to talk about anything else when there’s a serious injury like this.”
Players did not speak with reporters afterward. Both Colangelo and Krzyzewski addressed the players in the locker room. “A very emotional setting,” Krzyzewski said. “There’s a brother hood in the NBA, and to me moments like this – a family or a brother hood shows its heart, shows its depth, and I though that’s what our players showed during that time.”
And now USA Basketball will take a break to access what’s next. Training camp resumes on Aug. 14 in Chicago. “We need to just take a step back before we do anything at all. Our first concern, our primary concern, is Paul George,” Colangelo said. “As an organization, we’re just going to let a little bit of time go by here before we address rosters or any of that stuff. I haven’t had time to think about anything, quite honestly, except Paul. So, ramifications and all of that stuff, that’s for another time. Why speculate on ifs? “