LAS VEGAS – USA Basketball’s first week of preparations for the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup was marred by a horrific injury to the lower right leg of Pacers forward Paul George.
In the first minute of the fourth quarter of the USA Basketball Showcase on Friday, George attempted to block a James Harden layup on a fast break. On his landing, his right leg buckled as it hit the basket support.
Overnight, USA Basketball announced that George had surgery to repair a open tibia-fibula fracture and would be hospitalized for about three more days.
Players around George were shaken by what they saw. As George received medical attention on the baseline of the Thomas & Mack Center, his mother and father came down from the crowd and were by his side. Pacers general manager Kevin Pritchard was also in attendance.
“[George] appeared, like, stoic,” USA head coach Mike Krzyzewski said afterward. “They allowed his father to touch him and to comfort him. I thought our trainers did a great job, right away, of making sure, emotionally, he was as good as possible. But Paul reacted well.”
Both teams gathered together in prayer before George was taken away in a stretcher. And there was a universal decision to end the game with 9:33 to go.
“With the serious injury that we had,” Krzyzewski announced to the assembled crowd, “and the fact that we stopped playing for a long time and, really, in respect for Paul and his family, the scrimmage is done. We want to thank you for your support.”
Afterward, USA Basketball managing director Jerry Colangelo said that there would be no decisions on the USA roster “for a while.”
“We need to just take a step back before we do anything at all,” Colangelo said. “Our first concern, our primary concern is Paul George.”
Colangelo and Krzyzewski said that they would be heading to the hospital immediately after speaking to the media. They had been set to cut the roster down from 20 to 15, likely early Saturday. But the team is not scheduled to reconvene until Aug. 14 in Chicago and there’s no urgency to make any decisions now.
Before George’s injury, Friday night was about the performance of Derrick Rose, who looked as quick and explosive as ever in his first game in almost nine months. But just as the USA and the NBA got one star back, it lost another. George was set to be the starting small forward for the U.S. Team at the World Cup, which begins Aug. 30 in Spain. And though there are no details on his injury as of yet, it is likely to keep him out several months.
“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.”
Bird filed another statement on the team’s website Saturday morning and added the following in regards to George:
“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.”
George’s injury could also have repercussions for USA Basketball, which has gotten commitments from most of the best players in the country since Colangelo took over the program in 2005. George’s injury could be in the back of players’ minds any time they’re asked to play for their country.
“It’s a first for us in USA Basketball,” Colangelo said, “to have something like this take place.”
Questions will be asked about the distance between the baseline and the basket stanchion at the Thomas & Mack Center. It appeared to be shorter than at a typical NBA arena.
“Anything can happen anywhere,” Krzyzewski said. “Tonight it happened during a basketball game.”
George’s U.S. teammates did not address the media after the game and left the arena quietly. Kyrie Irving was seen crying in his father’s arms.
A lot of the players, along with dozens of other NBA players and former Louisville guard Kevin Ware, who suffered a similar injury last year, tweeted their support afterward. NBA commissioner Adam Silver also issued a statement.
“There’s a brotherhood in the NBA,” Krzyzewski said, “and to me, at moments like this, a family, a brotherhood shows its heart, shows its depth.”