Horrific and season-ending injuries can be brutal for teams involved, as their chance at competing could severely go down the drain. Seriously, it happens in the blink of an eye.
Nevertheless, it’s the player involved that deserves most of the sentimentality, emotion, and public response.
No, take that back. It’s the person — the human being — involved that needs the support, positive assurances, and time to cope with what has occurred.
Paul George not only held the keys to the city of Indianapolis last season, but he also set himself up to perhaps succeed Reggie Miller as the face of the franchise. No other player in the NBA has had a rougher offseason than George, the future of the Indiana Pacers. Miller became the cornerstone of the Pacers through the 1990’s, elevating them to relevancy and giving them a fighting chance against Chicago and their emperor, or New York and their heckling movie star of a fan.
There’s certainly not a playoff performance comparison yet, but not admitting George has the better all-around style of play would be refusing to tell the truth.
Now, George is hobbling around on crutches after his unforeseeable fall during the Team USA’s Blue vs. White scrimmage, in which he suffered a compound fracture of the tibia and fibula.
On Friday afternoon, George rode shotgun in his new white, “Oh my God” worthy Ferrari as he strolled into Bankers Life Fieldhouse. He addressed the media for the first time since the nasty fall, and it was — by far — the most heartfelt press conference I’ve been a part of.
George’s parents, Paul Sr. and Paulette, entered the room first and sat near the wall, where George could look over and easily find them during the presser. Look of grief or deep sorrow? Surprisingly no, as they’ve had time to recover emotionally.
As you could imagine, the questions swirled in, regarding the immediate impact of the leg break.
“I was in shock,” George said, explaining that there was no time to think about a recovery right away. “I couldn’t believe it was me this happened to.”
Each and every individual who’s ever played basketball always has that sentiment and viewpoint. This could never happen to me, because I’m safe on the court. I’m not as unlucky as the rest. I never do anything to put my body in danger.
God works in mysterious ways, and nothing was different in George’s case. He was competing, chasing after James Harden to do what he always does; play All-NBA, hustle-worthy defense.
At the initial point of hitting the floor, George wasn’t aware of how bad it could possibly feel. He quickly realized once he sat up and took a glance, however.
“When I looked down and saw my bone sticking out, I knew it was bad,” George said. Remember, many weren’t even sure if the bone had broke the skin, similar to what we saw in the 2013 NCAA Tournament. “I had felt pain before, and this was a pain that I’ve never felt.”
None of us ever want to endure the pain George went through in those few minutes of laying on the floor. Soon after, he was taken the hospital, where he was visited throughout the week by a variety of close friends. Teammates C.J. Watson, Roy Hibbert, George Hill, and coach Frank Vogel topped the list, but national figures such as Floyd Maywhether Jr. also came to check up on the Eastern Conference All-Star starter.
The huge questions, though, revolve around the recovery process, and how he plans to attack it. Kevin Ware, guard for the Georgia State Panthers, experienced an identical injury in March 2013. He was a member of the Louisville Cardinals, and was sidelined for less than eight months after the compound fracture.
Since Ware decided to red-shirt the rest of the season after just playing nine games, I asked George if he had reached out to Ware to see if the process is going to be harder than it seems.
“I haven’t reached out to Kevin Ware personally, but I have spoken with people that have had major injuries like this,” George said. “Everyone really told me they made a full recovery. It’s going to be tough to start off, but you know what you can do and can’t do.”
These techniques George will be undergoing once he’s out of the cast and cleared to walk and run will test his patience. That pertains to a physical standpoint, as well as mental.
“There’s going to be days where it’s hard for me and tough for me, but I’m looking forward to those days. Again, it will make me stronger.”
From speaking to George throughout the calendar year last season, there’s truthfully no other player in the league worthy of your time. He won’t maunder off topic, avoid your central question, respond with sarcasm and a degrading tone. He’ll be there after practices, after games, and throughout community events.
George wants to answer your questions from the heart, but using his intelligent noggin he’s been blessed with. If you compiled a list of five or six players in the league you absolutely would beg for this type of injury not to happen to, mark No. 24 on your list. Or, No. 13, whichever you prefer saying now.
Yep, George is feeling satisfied with his number change for the 2015-16 season (his return). The reasons? Once again, you get the sense that he’s the most mature 24-year-old in the league. I will put Bradley Beal in that category too, and he’s only 21.
“The whole thing with [No. 13] is just coming into my own,” George explained. “I’m ready to embrace everything that comes with being one of the young stars in this league.”
If that catches you off guard, it’s important to know that George idolized Kobe Bryant growing up, as he detailed earlier this year. Bryant, who wears No. 24, is the main focus of that jersey number. George will be considered “PG-13″ upon his return, which is slated to be one of the best marketing approaches he’s ever made.
Jokingly, George was asked about the unluckiness of the number 13, due to all the superstition. Then, immediately after, he was reminded that Reggie Miller wore No. 31, which is his new number backwards.
“Yeah, and I wear 13 because it’s the opposite of Reggie,” he said while laughing.
With his doctors already keeping him confident by claiming he’ll return to the same athleticism as before the injury, George can rest easier. More importantly, he can focus on the road ahead, not having to worry about structural damage in his ligaments.
Underneath it all, however, you know he’s already visioning how he can improve his game when he hits the floor again, trying to inch closer to the greatest Pacer to ever live, by helping them raise their first NBA championship banner. It’s been 14 years since Indiana appeared in the NBA Finals, a period incredibly too long for the liking of the players, Larry Bird, and the city’s culture. They’re used to ups and downs, though.
George has had a good amount of time — before and after the injury — to evaluate how this new Pacers roster is going to look on the court. On paper, it’s not as lucrative as last season. Heck, it’s not close to the talent level.
Yet, George feels overwhelmingly optimistic about newcomer Rodney Stuckey, who signed with the Pacers after seven long years in Detroit. Why “long?” Because, the Pistons completely tumbled off the map after losing their core with Chauncey Billups and Richard Hamilton.
“I love the addition [of Stuckey],” George said. “He has that Pacers pedigree. Very hard-nosed player, he understands defense is first. I’m looking forward to having him here, watching him from afar, hopefully one day I’m on the court with him as well. Especially with the loss of Lance, I think he’ll step right in and contribute right away, and contribute big for us.”
Stuckey went public after being signed by Indiana by saying he’s been working aggressively on his outside shooting. For the Pacers, who ranked 17th in 3-point efficiency (35.7 percent) and 25th in 3-point attempts per game (18.8), saying it’s a “must” is just an understatement.
But, Stuckey only shot 27.3 percent from the outside last season with the Pistons, his third-worst percentage of his 7-year career. It doesn’t add up, but who’s underrating the hard work one can put in during the offseason? Training camp is where Frank Vogel will find out the truth about Stuckey.
“That is one area that we need, is to be able to stretch the floor. So, that’s big that he’s attacking that this summer.”
George will watch this season in pure disgust, knowing there’s nothing he can do about the struggles Indiana will face. And, trust me, there will be immense struggles. Cleveland, Chicago, Toronto, Miami, Washington, and Atlanta will all have their tools ready to unload on the Pacers since they’re undermanned.
But, wait … will he actually have to sit back and watch for the whole season?
“We don’t want to put a date on it or a timeframe on it.”
Best of luck, No. 13.