Last Friday, during a Team USA scrimmage ahead of the FIBA World Cup, Paul George of the Indiana Pacers suffered a devastating leg injury. George suffered a sickening compound fracture of the tibia and fibula (DO NOT watch the video) after landing awkwardly on the basket stanchion—a stanchion that was closer to the baseline at UNLV’s Thomas & Mack Center than it is on most NBA courts. His teammates were visibly distressed and head-coach Mike Krzyzewski rightly called off the rest of the game.
George underwent successful surgery over the weekend, but is expected to be out of action for up to 18 months—there’s no chance that he will suit up for the Indiana Pacers next season. The Pacers franchise, fresh off losing Lance Stephenson in free agency, are now reeling after losing their best player. To complicate matters, George’s injury looks set to open up an intense debate regarding whether NBA players should participate in off-season tournaments like the FIBA World Cup.
However, all the focus should be on Paul George and his recovery, and credit to Krzyzewski and Jerry Colangelo for steering last Friday’s press conference in that direction. NBA players across the league echoed that sentiment, reaching out to George via Twitter to express words of shock, condolence and encouragement.
James Harden, who George was trying to block just before the injury occurred, tweeted: “Speedy recovery for my guy PG! Praying for you and the fam. The comeback is going to be crazy!” LeBron James, a recent adversary of George’s on the court, tweeted that the news “Made me immediately sick to my stomach.” Most poignantly, Kevin Ware, who suffered a similarly gruesome injury playing for the Louis Cardinals in 2013, tweeted, “Minor setback for a major comeback PG.”
It’s going to be a long road ahead for George (infections are of an immediate concern for the doctors treating George). However, there are many examples, Ware’s included, of players who have suffered major injuries only to return to basketball and thrive. Here are four other ballers who have gone on to play another day.
Andrew Bogut suffered a devastating injury in April 2010, while playing for the Milwaukee Bucks. The giant Australian centre dunked the ball, but hit the floor hard, breaking his right hand and dislocating his right elbow. Bogut missed the remainder of the season, a season in which he’d been justifying his selection as the first overall pick in the 2005 draft, averaging a double-double and making the Third Team All-NBA.
Bogut struggled with injuries in the seasons that followed, but towards the back end of the 2012-13 season, he became a key part of the Warriors team that upset the Nuggets in the first round of the playoffs. Last season, he built on his 2013 playoff performance and returned to somewhere close to his peak form, establishing himself as one of the best defensive big men in the NBA and the anchor for the Warriors’ top-10 defence.
Going back a few years, one of the most dominant players of the late 80s and early 90s, Dominique Wilkins, tore his Achilles tendon in a game against the Philadelphia 76ers—one of the worst injuries a basketball player, so reliant on that tendon for support in explosive movements, can experience. Wilkins, a nine-time All-Star and first-ballot Hall of Fame inductee, missed the final 40 games of the 1991-92 season and the beginning of the 1992-93 season.
Wilkins went through months of painful rehab—the type of rehab Kobe Bryant, who ruptured his Achilles just two seasons ago, may be all too familiar with—but he returned to average almost 30 points per game the following year, and played another seven seasons in the NBA. In his comeback season Wilkins was named the Comeback Player of the Year—quite the feat.
After impressing for the Brooklyn Nets last season, combo guard Shaun Livingston signed a three-year deal with the title-contending Golden State Warriors, worth somewhere in the region of $15 million. There was a time, however, when it looked as though Livingston would never play basketball again.
Playing for the Los Angeles Clippers against the Charlotte Bobcats, Livingston landed awkwardly after a layup and dislocated his kneecap, which resulted in a major leg break. In the process Livingston did major damage to his meniscus, ACL and MCL. Not only was there a chance that Livingston would never play basketball again, but there were initial concerns that his leg would have to be amputated.
Fast forward a few years and Livingston is thriving again in the NBA. He played 76 games for the Nets last season, averaging 11 points a game per 36 minutes. Livingston, who has as good a perspective as any on the matter, lent words encouragement to George. He tweeted: “I know people are in shock from Paul George’s injury. He will be able to bounce back because he had a warrior mentality.” Livingston later added: “I said the same about Derrick Rose. They both have youth on their side and sometimes these injuries can make you a stronger individual than before.”
No player present at the Thomas & Mack Centre on Friday night would’ve been quite as aware of what Paul George was going through—the pain, the fears, the doubts—as the Chicago Bulls’ Derrick Rose. In Game 1 of a 2012 NBA playoff series against the 76ers, Rose tore the ACL in his left knee, while planting his leg on a drive to the basket. Rose was coming off a MVP-winning season in 2011 and had just made a successful comeback after an injury-ravaged 2011-12 campaign.
Rose missed the entire 2012-13 NBA season and played only ten games during the season just gone before tearing his meniscus. Although Rose’s injury was nowhere near as gruesome as George’s, the nature of his injury was just as serious to his basketball career. Oftentimes ligaments and tendons take longer to heal than bones, and given the fact that Rose has always relied on ungodly levels on athleticism and explosion around the hoop, an ACL tear was extremely debilitating both physically and mentally.
But, if you believe the reports coming out of Vegas, where the point guard is competing for a Team USA roster spot, Rose seems to back stronger than ever. Nick Friedell of ESPN Chicago recently wrote a piece on Rose’s form, where he quoted Syracuse head-coach Jim Boeheim (assistant to Krzyzewski at Team USA) as saying, “He’s (Rose) been the most impressive guy here.” That’s high praise indeed when you consider the talent on show in Vegas—the likes of Kevin Durant, Anthony Davis, Kyrie Irving and James Harden—and something that should be of great encouragement to Paul George as he begins his long road to recovery.