As soon as the NBA season concludes, Indiana Pacers’ own Paul George will trade the yellow and blue jersey for the red, white and blue of team USA as the road to the Rio Olympics begins.
But this road looked unlikely back in the summer of 2014, before the U.S. dominated the FIBA World Cup. George suffered a compound fracture of both bones on his right leg during a live scrimmage for the national team that put the forward out of action for the tournament in Spain. It was an injury so graphic and gruesome it was reported that Kevin Durant pulled out of the team purely because of the incident.
“It took everything out of me seeing that,” Durant reportedly told friend Randy Williams and a Nike executive in an article by Yahoo! Sports. “Everything I had to play for team USA, that injury stripped it away from me.”
For George, it is now a distant memory.
“I’ve only watched it once,” George said about his horrific ordeal in the summer of 2014.
“I won’t watch it again. It was a one time thing that I wanted to see again, put it in the past and make sure that I am in a better situation now.”
And a better situation he most certainly is. George, still at the relatively young age of 25 has accomplished so much in his NBA career only spanning six years. He scooped the Most Improved Player award in 2013, been on the All-Defensive first and second teams and he will be a three-time NBA All-Star next Sunday, when the East and West collide for the annual weekend-long event in Toronto, the first one outside of the United States.
Out of all of his accomplishments though, George’s finest achievement so far was coming back from a season-long leg break, returning to the Pacers, making them a Playoff-calibre side again and being named an All-Star.
Next Sunday’s appearance, he says, will be the sweetest one. “This is going to be probably the one that touches me the most,” George said.
“What I’m looking forward to in Toronto is just being back in that moment, being back hanging with the guys, being back playing in front of a lot of fans, playing in front of a great crowd in Toronto. You cherish those moments.”
And once the All-Star break concludes, the season, nothing but another chapter in the NBA history books, then the road to Rio will be next on George’s mind.
Sure, the Pacers forward has stiff competition if he wants to seal his place on the final 12-man Olympic roster that you could argue is practically a lock for the gold medal. But for George the challenge will come on the first day of training camp – the moment he takes a deep breath and puts on the USA vest for the first time since that injury. If he goes well in camp he will then progress to the traditional USA showcase that will pit White vs Blue in a scrimmage usually held in Las Vegas.
That will be George’s true test to see if he put his horrible leg break behind him. But he is going the right way about it at present. One step at a time.