Indiana Pacers all-star forward Paul George had successful surgery to repair an open tibia-fibula fracture in his right leg early Saturday morning in Las Vegas, according to a statement released by USA Basketball.
George suffered the injury a few hours earlier during a Team USA intrasquad scrimmage at UNLV’s Thomas and Mack Center and 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 three days.
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 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!!”
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. Pacer team president Larry Bird issued a statement that read in part, “We are obviously greatly concerned. At this time our thoughts and prayers are with Paul.”
A two-time all-star who led 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 won the past four international basketball competitions but 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.
“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.”
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.”