The moment itself was dreadful and upsetting.
Just try to bear in mind that everything leading up to the moment was actually feel-good…an admirable young man working hard, growing stronger, testing limits, getting better.
No one ever feels good about getting hurt, but Paul George has every right to some peace of mind here.
Unfair as the outcome was, the effort was unfailing.
It usually is with him. That’s why George was just being true to himself and what he believes about working hard to improve, playing for his national team after a long, plainly tiring breakthrough NBA season.
George sailed through the air Friday night—playing the elite, hustling defense that marks him as different from just about every one of his high-scoring peers—and his right leg was injured so gruesomely that the rest of the ESPN-televised USA Basketball exhibition showcase was up and canceled.
The injury was diagnosed as a compound fracture of George’s fibula and tibia, and after post-surgery hospitalization at Sunrise Hospital for three more days, plenty of slow, frustrating moments lie in his immediate future.
Hopefully, George appreciates that he shouldn’t second-guess himself or let regret rule his mind. He did offer a positive slant via his Twitter account before entering surgery:
Ironically given the nature of his injury, his Twitter profile lists his whereabouts this way: "I’ll tell you when I land."
George’s spirit is all about soaring to more and more challenges, which is why he has used Kobe Bryant’s hard-driving mentality and routine as his template for success.
"Some days it’s tougher than others," George said then of pushing himself with a long playoff run still awaiting him, "but I think that’s where you’ve just got to sit yourself down and understand, 'Is it going to make me better?'"
George, 24, repeated the make-me-better mantra this week in Las Vegas during USA Basketball practices. His value to this national team in FIBA World Cup preparations was obvious in how he was paired for every scrimmage with Kevin Durant and Anthony Davis, the two unquestioned starters in Mike Krzyzewski’s frontcourt.
The three-man "King of the Hill" session of intense one-on-one ball between Durant, George and James Harden after USA basketball practice Wednesday was the highlight of the week for many onlookers.
Not many could imagine that George used to be knocked for not being able to create his own shot until he worked harder and harder at it. The other knock on him was that he settles for too many jumpers, but the loudest crowd gasp from those one-on-one matchups Wednesday came after George exploded for two dribbles left against Durant and hammered down a vicious dunk.
A lot is going to be said in future days and months about whether NBA stars are unwise to risk injury and represent their country. But let’s be clear on this: This USA Basketball training is some great, great stuff.
It’s an outsized, extended All-Star Game played as if Sin City is some kind of heaven—top players going at top intensity at both ends, trying to meld their games together in organic ways, learning lessons in what they do wrong and building confidence from what they do right.
It’s pure and wonderful.
It just so happened that it ended with George suffering this tough break.
That chance of misfortune is part of sports.
DeMar DeRozan got smashed in the nose early during the first scrimmage on the first day, trying to play the defense that is so preached on this team: He was bloodied and dropped by Klay Thompson clearing space with his elbow. Durant came up lame at one point in another scrimmage but worked his way through it.
George got hurt trying to block Harden’s shot in the exhibition showcase. If it had happened during that extended "King of the Hill" showdown Wednesday, there would be even more backseat drivers opining that slow and steady wins the race, and George is obviously better off getting his rest.
What really happened is that George walked off the court a ways at one point during "King of the Hill," and reporters approached him and started an interview that he had to cut off. He turned back to the court.
George wanted more of that special practice, more chances to get better, more moments mastering his craft.
A resting LeBron James tweeted Friday morning how he had heard about Durant, George and Harden facing off like that and longed to challenge himself in that ring:
George’s reply tweet came less than an hour later and reflected his no-questions-asked desire to push himself further:
Yet come nightfall, George was on a stretcher, and it was hard to say when he might ever challenge James on the court again.
The two of them have made it a custom now to rendezvous head-to-head in the playoffs, the rivalry rising to a new level two months ago in George’s 21-point fourth-quarter domination that staved off the Indiana Pacers’ elimination in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals.
It’s hard to focus on now, but let’s try to remember what George was doing there on the court Friday night.
He was building himself up to be even better for the next season, for the next big game, for the next time he needs something he didn’t quite have before.
As wrong as it turned out for him, nothing is wrong with that.
Kevin Ding is an NBA senior writer for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @KevinDing.
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