Mark Story: Paul George injury should not drive NBA players out of Olympics

Herald-Leader Sports ColumnistAugust 4, 2014 

Whenever Paul George next steps on a basketball court, the Indiana Pacers star will immediately become the player I will pull for the hardest.

In an incident that was sickeningly reminiscent of Louisville guard Kevin Ware's injury during the 2013 NCAA Tournament, George suffered an open tibia-fibula fracture Friday night in Las Vegas while seeking to block a James Harden layup in an intrasquad scrimmage for Team USA.

George had been among those trying out for the American team that will bid to claim the gold medal in the 2014 FIBA World Championships. With one horrible misstep, he is now all but certain to be sidelined for the entire 2014-15 NBA season. The Pacers will be without their foundational player in the coming year.

That's a steep price to pay for volunteering to play for one's country.

Could George's misfortune lead to the end of the NBA allowing its best players to represent the United States in international basketball competitions?

For a variety of reasons, here's a strong hope that will not be the case.

New NBA commissioner Adam Silver told ESPN over the weekend that he did not "anticipate a major shift in the NBA's participation in international competitions" as a result of George's injury. But Silver acknowledged that the league's owners are certain to revisit the issue in light of what happened to George.

Pacers President Larry Bird — who won an Olympic Gold Medal in 1992 as a member of the original Dream Team — issued a statement after George's injury supportive of the idea of continued NBA participation in international hoops competitions.

"We still support USA Basketball and believe in the NBA's goals of exposing our game, our teams and players worldwide," Bird said. "This is an extremely unfortunate injury that occurred on a highly-visible stage but could also have occurred anytime, anywhere."

Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban has long been on the record opposing NBA players in the Olympics. His beef is that NBA teams and players assume the financial risk of injury, yet it is the International Olympic Committee that benefits financially from the participation of pro basketball's biggest stars.

The Mavs owner wants the NBA owners and players to stop participating in the Olympics and instead join together and launch their own version of the World Cup.

Cuban is right that much about the IOC does not pass the smell test.

Still, the NBA and American basketball in general have benefitted greatly by the participation of our nation's best players on the big Olympic stage.

While the NBA and its players may not profit financially in a direct manner from the Olympics, the worldwide spotlight provided by the Games is a wonderful means for the league and its players to "enhance their global brands."

There's something compelling about seeing the best of the best — LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Chris Paul et al — team up together to face meaningful competition. Outside the Olympics, there's no other forum for that to happen.

Invented in Springfield, Mass., the game of basketball is an American export. It shows respect to the world, especially strong hoops countries such as Argentina, Spain, France and, increasingly, Canada, when the U.S. cares enough about international play to send its very best.

For international players like Manu Ginobli (Argentina) and Dirk Nowitzki (Germany), it has long been apparent that "playing for their countries" carries a special meaning. It has always fascinated me that people assume doing the same somehow means less to American hoops stars.

Before the 2012 London Games, then-NBA commissioner David Stern was floating the idea of turning basketball at the Olympics into an under-23 competition. That would mimic the Olympic format currently in use for men's soccer.

One of the loudest voices against Stern's plan was Kobe Bryant, who would have been knocked out of future Olympic participation by an age limit.

With all that, the sight Friday night of one of the NBA's best young players on the court after suffering a stomach-churning injury may well scare NBA stars and their teams away from future international participation.

If so, it will be a major loss for American basketball.

Mark Story: (859) 231-3230.Email: mstory@herald-leader.com. Twitter: @markcstory. Blog: markstory.bloginky.com.

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