Athletes deserve right to play for U.S.
Mary Green | Monday, September 1, 2014
The FIBA World Cup just started last weekend, and in case you haven’t been watching too closely, the United States has torn through its first two games.
The Americans bested Turkey yesterday, 98-77, after trailing at the half, the day after they scorched Finland, 114-55.
In the game against the Finns, the U.S. led 60-18 at halftime. No, that was not a typo. The U.S. had to ease up on defense to an NBA-All-Star-Game level to avoid embarrassing the Scandinavian team too badly.
International basketball competition has drawn some criticism from fans the past couple weeks, and it’s not because the Americans have made the tournament more than a little lopsided thus far.
It’s because of the horrific injury to Indiana Pacers forward/guard and NBA star Paul George.
In an intrasquad tune-up before the American team headed to Spain for the FIBA tournament, Paul fractured his right leg in an awkward landing after contesting a shot.
The injury was so terrible that most, if not all, networks, refused to show the unedited footage, instead opting to use video that blurred out George’s legs. Many of George’s teammates looked sick as the two-time All-Star was tended to on the court and later taken away on a stretcher. Team USA head coach Mike Krzyzewski refused to discuss potential player cuts after the game, calling it “inappropriate” in light of the injury.
The blogs lit up the next day when news of the scrimmage spread through social media and SportsCenter. Many people questioned how a player as important to the Pacers and to the NBA as a whole could suffer such an injury – one doctor estimated it could require 18 months of recovery – during an inconsequential intrasquad game for the U.S. national team.
I understand that criticism. It would be one thing if George broke his leg in Game 7 of the NBA Finals. It’s another that it happened in a Team USA tune-up for the FIBA World Cup (which doesn’t exactly boast the glory or the glamour of its soccer equivalent).
However, some people even called for the NBA’s top talent not to play in this tournament – or any international competition – in the future because of the potential risk.
In their minds, if you’re not being paid thousands of dollars to hit the hardwood, why play at all?
The Pacers organization has some right to be upset because it will be impacted financially by George’s absence.
But just because it pays George $18.3 million a season to put on a navy-and-gold jersey doesn’t mean it owns him (unless it’s written into his contract, of course). He’s a grown man who wants to compete for his country against the rest of the world for a gold medal. There’s nothing wrong with that.
Many of these critics are the same who complain about international competition in sports like basketball and baseball because “the U.S. is really the only country that plays that sport,” which is why, they say, the Americans win.
First of all, the Americans don’t always win, and it doesn’t take a huge upset for them to fall short of first place.
The U.S. baseball team was eliminated after the second round of this year’s World Baseball Classic.
The men’s national team earned bronze medals at the 2004 Summer Olympics, which prompted an overhaul of the organization’s leadership that led to the “redeem team” reclaiming gold in 2008.
On the flip side, the U.S. participating in international basketball grows the game’s popularity. The goal of many of these international tournaments is to spread the game to all corners of the world and draw in more fans.
What better way to do that than by having some of the game’s best players compete? A variety of countries is represented and so is the top talent, including players like Paul George.
At the end of the day, it was a freak injury with low odds of occurring again – odds much worse than those of George and his teammates coming home with a gold medal.
Does the reward outweigh the risk then? For many critics, it doesn’t.
But for those players who chose to pull on the red, white and blue, it does, and the final decision should be up to them.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.