Not Worth Risking NBA Careers For Team USA

It’s admirable to believe in God, Mom, apple pie and playing basketball for one’s country, but be real here: It’s more about a player’s shoe company wanting him showcased in a global setting. When Paul George’s right leg landed and gave America its latest Kevin Ware/Joe Theismann grotesque moment in which we react in horror, recoil in shock, double over, feel like getting sick and maybe even cry — all emotions showed by his Team USA mates — well, it’s time to reconsider the wisdom of such a commitment.

In his day job, George is about to begin the first season of a five-year, $90 million contract with the Indiana Pacers. Now, because of a broken lower leg that required immediate surgery and looked so gruesome that TV networks didn’t want to replay it, the Pacers lose their franchise player for next season while realizing he might never reach his optimum performance level. That quickly, in a mere intrasquad scrimmage in Las Vegas, the career of a gifted, 24-year-old player was thrown into jeopardy.

And that suddenly, the future of a Pacers team already beset by dissension and underachievement is unfairly clouded, begging the question of whether it’s worth the gamble to let star players perform in non-Olympic international events when their NBA franchise are suffering the consequences.

I say no, they should not be playing for Team USA in 2014. Now that Jerry Colangelo and Mike Krzyzewski have re-established America’s pre-eminence as a hoops nation, now that the U.S. has won the last two Olympic gold medals after bottoming out 10 years ago in Athens, what else is there to prove? The NBA is about to become twice as massive a business colossus with future blockbuster TV deals and soaring franchise values. You’re going to let your prized investments play in something called the FIBA World Cup — which is nothing more than a tournament that spares the winner from having to participate in qualifiers next year for the 2016 Olympics — when they should be home resting and recuperating after an NBA season that, in George’s case, started in October and ended in June?

Let the best college players, in their one-and-done bubbles, represent their country in these preliminary events. Then summon the greatest NBA players for Rio de Janeiro in two years, if they so choose. But if George’s career never is the same thanks to a spill in an intrasquad scrimmage, we all have to ask what his Pacers teammate, Roy Hibbert, conveyed on Twitter:

WTF?

“Thanks everybody for the love and support. I’ll be ok and be back better than ever!!! Love y’all!!’’ George tweeted after surgery on what was called an open tibia-fibula fracture.

For now, that is wishful thinking.

“We are hopeful at some point next week Paul will return to Indianapolis to continue his recovery,” Pacers boss Larry Bird said. “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.”

Now you understand why Kevin Love, with his own $100 million maximum contract still pending while Minnesota tries to finalize a deal with Cleveland, bowed out of a roster spot with Team USA. Imagine if he had been injured in an intrasquad scrimmage, not only costing himself millions but thwarting the chance to make history with LeBron James. Now you understand why Manu Ginobili, who will be gunning for back-to-back titles with the San Antonio Spurs next season, prefers healing an injured right leg over playing in the World Cup.

Krzyzewski, who has done an impressive job of coaching and restoring American dominance in the sport, said George’s injury was an aberration. “Anything can happen anywhere, a lot of things happen,” he 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.’’

Said Colangelo, director of USA Basketball: “This is a very tough blow. 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. We need to just take a step back before we do anything at all. Our first concern, our primary concern, is Paul George. I wanted to reach out to the Indiana Pacers organization, I have a call into owner Herb Simon. This is a tough blow, not only for USA basketball, but for the Indiana Pacers. And so, 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. It seems unimportant.”

It would be easier to side with the red, white and blue angle if these ventures weren’t about selling merchandise, promoting brands and marketing the NBA around the world. But that’s exactly was this is about, and if Paul George is remembered for losing his greatness in what essentially was a sales scheme, that makes you want to cry even

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