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Injury puts stars on spot

You wouldn’t know it from the hyperbole of the past day, but Paul George will recover. Medical professionals are even predicting the young star of the Indiana Pacers will play again, perhaps within the calendar year.

And as bad as it looked, it’s doubtful the gruesome leg injury suffered in a USA Basketball showcase scrimmage in Las Vegas on Friday night is going to halt his career.

As for the utopian idea of representing your country in international competitions during the summers, after 90- and 100-game NBA grinds, it will never be the same.

For most or all of the best players in the world, weighing the risk of a finite number of earning years against the Q rating and life experience of an Olympic gold medal probably just got easier.

This was always the nightmare scenario for any owner, general manager and all-star. Given the physical demands and time commitment required to be part of USA Basketball or any international program, where teams can often end up playing a rigorous tournament featuring nine games in 15 days, it’s frankly surprising it hasn’t happened sooner.

When George’s right foot caught the stanchion under the basket, leading to a grotesque compound leg fracture that ESPN’s producers thankfully refused to show after the first replay, Kevin Durant, James Harden, a tearful Kyrie Irving and others didn’t merely see their teammate’s career flash before their eyes. They foresaw their own playing days end the same way: on a non-NBA regulation playing surface, with the stanchion moved more than two feet closer than the four feet required in the NBA, in a game that meant nothing.

It is responsible to question how FIBA, the sport’s international governing body, can continue to enforce its agreement with the NBA that prevents teams from influencing their players to play or not play unless there is a pre-existing injury.

“People are being irresponsible if they don’t think this type of play impacts franchises and careers,” an Eastern Conference team executive said, on the condition of anonymity. “Not just the catastrophic injuries, but the constant wearing down of joints and muscles that leads to burnout and these type of freak injuries. Many of us are just dreading the phone call and having to deal with all our plans blowing up.”

No prominent player has put in more time playing for his country than Manu Ginobili; the San Antonio Spurs can be thankful they were allowed to order the 37-year-old sixth man to forgo what would have been his last international competition with Argentina because he is rehabbing a stress fracture in his right fibula.

The argument that the injury could have happened in a pick-up charity game or Game 2 of the Eastern Conference finals or anywhere else is irrelevant in many ways. The reason George was on that particular court at that particular time was because he felt it was not just an honor to compete for a Team USA roster spot but, like many players, believed this was a necessary part of his larger marketing plan.

How much longer before Durant, Harden and others decide it’s just not worth it, the risk of having your leg bent perpendicular to your body?

Mike Wise is a Washington Post columnist. His columns appear periodically in The Journal Gazette.