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NBA owners using Paul George to restrict players' rights is wrong

George's gruesome injury may cause some front offices to forbid players from participating in international competitions. It wouldn't be just.

Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

When Paul George broke his leg in horrific fashion during Team USA's Friday scrimmage, the basketball world rallied around him. His teammates huddled and prayed over him in Las Vegas, and his NBA comrades tweeted heaps of support and sympathy. Mike Krzyzewski made the right move by ending the scrimmage in respect to George, and Jerry Colangelo smartly deferred all questions about the Team USA roster or any other little thing. In sympathy of George's plight, everyone focused on praying for his full recovery instead of all of the little politics associated with international play and USA Basketball.

Well, almost everyone.

Nice framing, courageous and anonymous GM.

This is totally predictable and probably more than a little emotional. You can't fault anyone for thinking about the injury in the broader scope of what is a fairly controversial issue in sports, particularly basketball and soccer. It is remarkably cold to call that horrific injury a "game-changer" in service to your position within hours of it occurring. But it's not an unfair topic to broach. As is the case with other politically charged topics (like, say, gun control), it actually does make sense to talk about these issues when they are at their most visible ... provided the right level of respect is afforded for the unfortunate people involved.

But let's put everything on the table: owners and GMs are concerned with protecting their financial investments in players and in protecting their teams' on-court aspirations. Players participate in international competition because they love the sport and their countries, and they want to play with friends from rival NBA teams. No one other than a shoe company is getting rich off of Team USA.

The motives for players to participate in FIBA competition are largely altruistic. The motives for owners and GMs to block that participation are not. That shouldn't be the whole argument, but it puts the debate in proper perspective.

The argument against superstars participating in international competition is that NBA teams have outsized investments in them, and they have a disproportionate affect on their teams' fates. For example, Paul George is due a major chunk of the Pacers' salary cap sheet, and his absence spells doom for Indiana's title hopes. Even with the NBA's modest injury exception, there's no way the Pacers will be able to come close to replacing George's production. So it becomes almost a lost season.

But that's actually a problem that extends far beyond FIBA participation. Players get injured doing lots of different things, including in practices, preseason games and regular season games. Injury is a fact of sports, and it can strike at any time. That George's horrible injury struck during a scrimmage is being used by some to show just how dangerous international play has become. It's more like a reminder that injury can strike at any time. It doesn't need to be in a real game where everyone is going 100 percent. It can, and in fact does, happen in scrimmages, too. It can and does happen on a yoga ball. It can and does happen while doing drillwork.

And those NBA owners and GMs supposedly united against stars participating in international competition have shown no inclination to protect players from overwork while wearing their franchise's uniforms. We have a crushing 82-game seasons with best-of-seven series throughout the playoffs. We have preseasons lasting 7-8 games. And now we're talking about adding a midseason tournament? "Game-changer," huh?

The motives for players to participate in FIBA competition are largely altruistic. The motives for owners and GMs to block that participation are not.

It should be up to players whether they want to play for their country in the FIBA World Cup or Olympics. If owners want to stop them, they can negotiate that, either when the league's collective bargaining agreement is up or in individual player contracts. It's a right that players have, one that many (including Paul George) hold dear. If owners and GMs want to take away that right, players should be compensated in some way. This whole "father knows best" power-trip nonsense isn't going to work.

There's a reasonable chance that seeing George's injury up close will lead to NBA stars being less likely to volunteer for national team duty, especially for players approaching free agency. But that should be their choice. This isn't riding a motorcycle or skiing or drag racing. This is a bunch of guys doing what they'd be doing in private gyms anyway, just while wearing their country's name on their chests. It's the players' right to do so, and should remain that way. Damage to owners' pocketbooks and GMs' best-laid plans are not sufficient justifications to reverse course.

In two years, when Team USA is preparing for the Olympics, it shouldn't be up to Herb Simon or Larry Bird or me or you or the United Anonymous Owners And GMs Of America as to whether Paul George suits up in the red, white and blue. It should be up to Paul George. It's unfortunate that it isn't completely obvious to everyone involved.


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