For Paul George, the team U.S.A scrimmage in Las Vegas was just another game. The Indiana three stepped on to the hardwood going through his pre-game routines as usual: knocking down threes, going through plays, stretching out – the standard pre-game stuff. Looking streaky in the shoot-around, George aimed to take this can’t miss attitude and momentum into the game with him. From the tip-off the Indiana small-forward was rolling off the pick and roll, looking to create space for open jumpers. After a few misses, including a wild shot off the top of the backboard, it quickly became apparent that the red-hot shooting performance we saw in the pre-game shoot-around was not going to carry over into the game itself – with George missing all four of his attempted field goals in the first half. The two U.S sides came out of the break very much the same – all-out offense with very little defence anywhere to be seen; akin to an All-Star game. George looked to jack up a few sighters, trying to shoot his way out of the slump he had gotten himself into – but it came to no avail. Despite a period of outstanding defence that led to two steals and a couple of assists – George was quite shockingly yet to make a field-goal: making 0 from 7 attempts throughout the game.
Entering the third quarter it was clear that George was looking to produce something big in order to put his previous misfires behind him. Three minutes into the fourth a steal from Paul George’s opposite number, James Harden, saw the bearded shooting-guard freight train to the rack with defenders trailing behind. George was first to react and immediately set-off behind Harden trying to stop the Houston Rockets guard getting a quick and easy bucket. Running at full-tilt the small-forward jumped to block the impending lay-up, leaping to swat the ball in to the stands George hurtled past the backboard before crashing awkwardly into the stanchion a few metres behind the hoop. In an instant, the rowdy Vegas crowd gasped in a simultaneous feeling of fear and the players all rushed over to the defender with looks of sheer horror and anguish. Attempting to salvage his performance Paul George’s right leg had collided with the stanchion that holds the hoop in place – instantly snapping his lower right leg in half. Along with the crowd, George gasped knowing his career could be over.
“I looked down to see my legs and I saw my bone. The second I saw that, I lost it” George sheepishly explained to the Bleacher Report/Ball Motivation YouTube channel. When colliding with the stanchion George suffered a compound fracture, breaking both the tibia and fibula in his right leg. The horrific injury brought back the painful memories of Kevin Ware’s similar compound fracture that occurred in 2013; the college freshman was left side-lined for a year and a half after falling awkwardly out of a jump-shot. Although the injuries were different in the way that they occurred, the sheer gruesome sight of a compound fracture reminded us basketball fans of what can sadly happen on occasion. When talking to Bleacher Report/Ball Motivation YouTube channel George hesitantly explained what was going through his mind in the following moments after the injury: “Everything just slowed down. Like I could hear every individual in the arena talking”, the star then went on to describe the pain: “It was tough, as soon as the air hit the bone and where the open wound was it just shot through my whole body. I tried to lift back up to take another look but the OKC trainer um rushed over and held me down, pinned me down so I couldn’t lift back up. He told me ‘Man, you’ve broke your leg, you’ll get through this but it’s broke’ – that was a tough point right there.”
As timing of injuries go, this leg-break was up there with the worst of them. Coming in not only the off-season – meaning that George would miss the entirety of next season – it also came prior to the FIBA World Cup. The tournament that saw Team U.S.A, led by Kyrie Irving’s MVP performance, travel to Spain and win the tournament – leaving Paul George medal-less and wondering what could have been. Additionally, the injury also came after what was really a break-out season for the small-forward who not only averaged 21.7 PPG (points per game) and 6.8 RPG (rebounds per game) but also placed top 5 in the regular season and post-season’s standings for SPG (steals per game) – highlighting the defensive prowess of George. The injury will hinder the progress that the guard made over the season – but he wasn’t to be left alone.
Within moments of the injury the basketball universe united on social media, sending Paul George’s social media accounts into meltdown with heartfelt messages, George goes on to explain: “It was overload, from celebrities reaching out to me to the casual fans. Every time I updated it, there were hundreds and hundreds of comments. It made me feel like I wasn’t in it alone.” Even global boxing superstar Floyd Mayweather paid a visit, George mentions “I had a lot of visitors on the day of the injury, then the next day Floyd came by and that was like my first time telling everyone I was alright through social media.” The image of Mayweather posing next to the bed-stricken star soon went viral, along with the hashtag ‘#PrayForPaulGeorge’ – it was clear to see that the basketball fandom was behind him.
14 months later Paul George stepped onto the hardwood again, after a gruelling road to recovery the guard was welcomed back rapturously by the Indiana faithful. A standing ovation would follow, as would the chants of “PG! PG! PG!” and with a smile beaming from cheek to cheek George acknowledged the fans that had stuck by him every step of the way. He was back.