Paul George hobbled into the Bankers Life Fieldhouse media room on Aug. 15, set aside crutches and gingerly took a seat in front of a packed room, then spoke with surprising candor about how he shattered his right leg.
It’s a nightmare setback for the Indiana Pacers, losing their best player, likely for the NBA season before it could begin. The All-Star guard forward broke his right tibia and fibula when he slammed into a backboard stanchion during a Team USA scrimmage two weeks earlier in Las Vegas.
The pain was like nothing he had ever experienced. And when he looked down, he saw the bone protruding through the skin.
“I felt like gasoline was on my leg and someone lit a match,” he said. “My leg felt like it was in flames.”
Watching back in Indianapolis, Pacers president Larry Bird knew it was serious when he saw a trainer put a towel over the wound.
“It’s just very unfortunate,” the Hall of Famer Bird said. “You just can’t replace Paul George.”
George’s leg was broken in two places and needed pins to hold together his knee and ankle.
“It was a quick five minutes and then my body went into shock,” he said, “and I immediately took my mind off of what just happened thanks to my docs, my family, both of my parents coming by my side, my teammates coming over.”
Some of those teammates couldn’t look at it. Others clapped to try to show their support.
George’s injury had an immediate impact on not just the Pacers’ 2014-15 prospects as two-time defending Eastern Conference Central Division champions, but also the NBA introducing a rule that basketball stanchions must be at least 4 feet from the baseline. The one at the Thomas & Mack Center was measured at one inch closer.
Reigning league MVP Kevin Durant of the Oklahoma City Thunder decided in the aftermath of George’s mishap that he was tired and needed a break. He withdrew from Team USA.
While Bird didn’t rule out a George return this season, he said it was more realistic to expect George to take the entire season to recover. George said he had “a little hope” of playing next season, but also admitted it’s unlikely he will play.
George watched a video of the incident, in which he was chasing down James Harden to block his shot and slammed into the stanchion.
“I watched it one time and that will be the last time I see that video,” George said. “I really want to put all that behind me.”
So do the Pacers. Their fans would probably prefer to skip ahead to when George is back. While he was hurt, and guard Lance Stephenson bolted for more free-agent money to Charlotte, LeBron James returned to Cleveland and the Cavaliers acquired forward Kevin Love. Just like that, the Miami Heat, who took out Indiana in each of the past two postseasons, are no longer the consensus favorite in the Eastern Conference. The Cavs have seized the title-contender buzz.
George has already decided to start anew with a different jersey number — he’s switching to 13 from 24.
“The whole thing behind ‘PG13’ is just coming into my own,” he said.
But sadly for the Pacers, it will be a while before he can try to build upon his rising stardom.
Phillip B. Wilson can be found on Twitter (@pwilson24), Facebook and Google+.