Should Olympic gold be their goal or should a league title be their objective?
The injury looked horrific, and for fans of the Indiana Pacers, it was. Now, it’s not as if any injury to a professional athlete is something a person cheers, but Paul George’s injury over the weekend looked worse than most.
George was playing for Team USA basketball, and he was looking like the star he was throughout the NBA season. He was surely one of the league’s elite; his name fits nicely in a roster of stars that includes men like LeBron James, Kevin Durant and LaMarcus Aldridge.
An argument can be made that the only one of them whose name shone brighter than George’s last season was LeBron’s or Durant’s. But who wants to waste a minute on such an argument now?
Instead, the more intriguing argument should be whether George or any of the other NBA stars should be playing for a spot on the national team. They are coming off the long grind of the NBA, and their bodies have endured the aches that come with the physicality of pro sports.
They deserve a break from basketball, even if they are playing for national pride.
National pride does count for a lot when you bleed red, white and blue, and men ought to be interested in putting on the U.S. colors. But perhaps those men who should be doing the playing are ones who don’t have multimillion-dollar contracts that they work for.
No one is suggesting the United States should not participate in international events. The country has done so with professional athletes since Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird and the Dream Team high-fived their way to Olympic gold in 1992. Theirs was a surreal experience – for the world and for basketball American-style.
The hoops talent elsewhere in the world has made up ground on the United States. The country might win Olympic gold for years to come, but the United States won’t grab a gold medal again laughing and yakking it up like the Harlem Globetrotters.
That’s why George, who sustained a compound fracture of the right tibia and fibula, and any other NBA players are risking so much for so little in return.
The world knows that USA basketball remains the standard, and George and the rest of the lot have nothing to prove.
So why do they play?
That’s a question that every owner in the NBA has stayed silent about. Yet deep down inside, owners would likely prefer their stars rested during the offseason instead of getting back on the basketball court.
For owners know the reward might not be worth the risk. An Olympic gold medal feels oh-so good, and the quest for gold draws solid TV ratings for their sport. But Olympic gold doesn’t put fannies in arena seats during the regular season or postseason.
In a league that relies on stars, owners want their stars in the lineup, which is why the Pacers are doing no cheerleading for Team USA. Whatever hopes Bird, the team’s general manager, had for a championship in 2015 broke into shards once George’s leg shattered like crystal.
The 2014-15 season will be absent George; nobody doubts that. What is in doubt is George’s future and what it will look like. He can’t know. Bird can’t know.
What Bird does know is that if he had to lend George to Team USA again, he would say no, and maybe a few more general managers and team owners, after watching George’s gruesome injury, ought to say no, too.
For their goal is an NBA title, not Olympic gold.
The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.
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(Photo: Las Vegas News Bureau, Glenn Pinkerton/AP Photo)