George’s injury revealed a ‘brotherhood’ Team USA strived for while in Las Vegas

Posted: August 3, 2014 in General, NBA
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
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Indiana Pacers star and NBA All-Star Paul George and I chat after the U.S. men’s national team’s practice on Thursday. Photo courtesy of: Cassy Athena/cassyathena.com

W.G. Ramirez

I’ve heard, read and written the same adjectives you’ve all seen when it comes to describing Paul George’s gruesome injury Friday night at the Thomas and Mack Center.

See, I did it again.

Nearly 24 hours later, with about two hours of sleep in between reporting, texting, tweeting, sharing notes, communicating – you name it – about the incident, I can tell you it’s not one of my high points in 27 years of journalism.

Sure, I wrote a story that went global via The Associated Press, but these are not the stories you live for, especially when it’s about a young man with exquisite talent, and is as graceful on a basketball court as Baryshnikov was on stage and who is quite the diplomat in representing the NBA and men’s national team in a respectful manner.

George, considered a sure-bet to make the final 12-man roster for the World Cup of Basketball that starts later this month in Spain, emerged as the Indiana Pacers’ franchise player after averaging 21.7 points, 6.8 rebounds and 3.5 assists last season. The team figured it would build around him now that Lance Stephenson has bolted to play for the Charlotte Hornets, while many believe he was penciled in as a starter alongside Kevin Durant for the men’s national team.

After undergoing successful surgery to fix a right leg, open tibia-fibula fracture overnight, George has a long road to recovery.

And Indianapolis hearts are breaking as we speak.

But it’s not just because the Pacers have seemingly dropped out of the Eastern Conference picture about three months before the season begins, it’s because it couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy. I mean, from what I can tell, most of the players in town last week are all nice. Some are just over-seasoned a bit, and perhaps weary of dealing with media sorts. They give their garden variety quotes, do their required media sessions and then move on.

But George was someone who seemed different. He came across the exact way Team USA coach Mike Krzyzewski expected every member of the national team to come across, with a sense of brotherhood for his fellow teammates, and a great representative toward our country.

George stopped to speak to me in one of his last interviews of the week (he may have conducted a phone interview between our chat and Friday’s tip-off), just before the players boarded their charter bus after practice on Thursday. And the one thing I gathered was his true grasp for Krzyzewski’s goal of bringing together a fine-tuned group with the best chemistry, based on their personalities.

For George, he said he understood last Sunday, in the team’s first meeting at the Wynn.

“He put the video on and showing the guys celebrating, ya know pulling for one another – it’s a real brotherhood here,” said George, referring to previous national teams that won gold medals in the World Championships and Olympics. “You’re not only representing yourself, you’re not only representing the U.S. – you’re representing one another. And us being ambassadors of the NBA, of the US, we gotta carry that well.”

By the end of Thursday’s practice, George said everyone involved – from the invitees, to the select team, to the coaches and even the trainers – they were all on the same page and it had turned into a celebratory occasion, that being the first week together on a tour that next stops in Chicago on Aug. 14.

“We’re working hard, we’re getting a better understanding of one another, gaining that chemistry and I think really that’s what this is about,” George said. “We all can play ball, but it’s about learning how to play together and building chemistry, which is gonna win us that gold medal. A lot of us can do special things individually, but if we’re not on the same page, it’s gonna be tough.”

George said because players competing for other countries generally play together year round, they already have the camaraderie these group of NBA All-Stars are looking for, and began building in Las Vegas.

“For us to pick everything up in this short coming, it just speaks volumes of how much we’re willing to really sacrifice and make some changes to our games to win gold,” he said.

Durant_Reaction

Team USA’s Kevin Durant reacts after teammate Paul George collided with a backboard stanchion and broke his leg. Photo courtesy of:
Cassy Athena/cassyathena.com

And one of those sacrifices is putting your body at risk, over about six weeks, to attain global greatness. We saw how rough it can get last month in the FIFA World Cup, with several physical soccer matches. Here we are just one week into the U.S. team’s training camp, and the guy with one of the most infectious personalities and genuine attitudes Krzyzewski is looking for is not only lost from this team, he conceivably might not be ready to train with the Pacers until this time next year.

Durant, who USA Basketball managing director Jerry Colangelo has said is the face of the team, told me he’d grown close with George this past week, especially after the two, along with James Harden, spent extra time after practice rotating in and out of 1-on-1 competitions inside the Mendenhall Center.

Scary thing is, it was exactly like the play in which George was injured, that we watched the trio perform over and over on Wednesday and Thursday.

“It’s been fun, just getting to know Paul,” said Durant, the 2014 NBA MVP. “Of course I know James, but it’s competing against ’em. We’ve been competitive the last two days of playing one-on-one, it’s just getting us all better. We respect each other a lot, there’s a mutual respect for all of our games.”

George concurred: “And we rely on one another, we hold one another accountable for all of our actions. But it’s all about pulling for one another. At the end of the day, we’re all we really have, going over to Spain and playing for a gold medal. So we gotta make sure that everybody feels confident and comfortable, knowing that we got each other’s backs.”

DCousins_Reaction

DeMarcus Cousins reacts after teammate Paul George suffered a broken leg Friday night in Las Vegas.
Photo courtesy of: Cassy Athena/cassyathena.com

That couldn’t have been more evident immediately after George’s right leg crumbled into the basket stanchion 27 seconds into the fourth quarter of the USA Basketball Showcase. Harden reacted first, since it was his lay-up George tried contesting. Durant doubled over looking as if he wanted to burst into tears for his now-closer friend. DeMarcus Cousins was flailing his arms up and over his head repeatedly. Stephen Curry sat worried, visibly shaken, with a towel over his head.

And the leader of the brotherhood, Coach K, he looked like a concerned parent as he hovered over George while the medical team and George’s parents were there with them. You’re not supposed to be emotional, and not supposed to care as a reporter. But it was disheartening, and touching, and sad, and moving – all rolled into one. For about 12 or 13 minutes, soaking up the scene, it was an indescribable role I’m not sure I’d want to be a part of again. I love what I do, but that was downright frightful.

And there I did it again, another adjective.

“There’s a brotherhood in the NBA and to me, at moments like this, family or brotherhood shows its heart, it shows its depth, and that’s what I thought our players showed during that time,” Krzyzewski said at the post-game press conference. “We as a coaching staff just told them to relax. We felt at that point we should not go forward and not to worry about playing again, let’s put all of our focus and all of our energy, whatever, if you believe in a higher someone up there above, let’s focus on that in regards to Paul.

“We focused on prayer, and thinking about Paul George.”

How profound.

And touching.

Not to mention revealing, of that camaraderie and brotherhood everyone spoke of the first four days of the training camp, then exercised Friday night when a member of the brethren went down.

“That’s the type of environment we try to set, and we try to live by,” said Derrick Rose during an exclusive interview. “As a brotherhood playing together, just leaving our egos at the door, that’s what makes us a stronger team.”

Even – and especially – when a member of that team experiences a horrific injury.

See what I did there? Again…

Get well soon PG

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