The Sidney Sun-Telegraph - Serving proudly since 1873 as the beautiful Nebraska Panhandle's first newspaper

By Will Korn 

Talking Sports: The Paul George Injury and Future NBA/IOC Relations

 


By now almost everyone everywhere has heard about the toe-curling injury Indiana Pacers forward Paul George suffered last week at a USA basketball exhibition in Las Vegas.

In the aftermath of Paul snapping the tibia and fibula in his right leg, much debate has surfaced around the sports world.

Should pro basketball players be allowed to compete in international sporting events, specifically under the banner of FIBA and the International Olympic Committee?

Is it a problem that the players are playing for free outside of their league? Is it a problem that NBA teams aren’t being paid for injuries to its players?

My answer? It’s complicated.

Being a typical blue-collared American, I truly appreciate that these players choose to represent their countries without pay. To be completely honest their decision certainly isn’t without at least some selfish motivation. Understandably, they also wear that USA jersey in hopes of strengthening their own brands and likeness. At its core, it’s an opportunity—whatever the player wants to make of it.

But they still do it without monetary compensation. They still do it taking the full risk of an injury—potentially a career-altering one such as the one George sustained.

After a grueling 82-game season plus up to 16 postseason games, these guys don’t have to keep pushing their bodies—they have every right to relax and get away from the game in the summer. After all they’ve completed their jobs—playing the season—and have been paid fairly for their work.

Yet each summer they elect to throw on that jersey that represents us all.

That’s simply beautiful. That’s American. That’s something that everyone in this country should respect, even those who have turned away from the NBA claiming its players and operations is just one giant money grab.

The IOC is all about putting a top-notch product on the court for its basketball events and that means only one thing—professional players who have international followings. With all due respect to collegiate athletes, who work just as hard at their craft—the audience and ratings just aren’t quite as big when they’re in the house.

All that sounds great, right? Everybody wins. The players are ecstatic to represent their country. The IOC is making bank and the fans from all over the world get to watch their favorite NBA stars in what is sort of a mini world cup of basketball.

It’s easy to cast your opinion when the outcome has no effect on you either way. So put yourself in the shoes of an NBA owner for a minute.

Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban has once again taken the spotlight here—forget the dozens of fines he’s incurred from NBA officials over the last 14 years. He has openly voiced his opinion on this matter for all of the world to read.

Cuban believes that NBA players should not be allowed to participate in FIBA/IOC events. He has some very salient points.

First, the IOC makes almost all of the profit at the players’ expense. The NBA as a league is not compensated but that’s okay because the NBA doesn’t “own” basketball. The sport in general isn’t a licensed product exclusive to the Association.

He notes that the players are not compensated either. When these players choose to represent their countries, they fall under the rules and guidelines of the IOC which Cuban claims is purely driven by profit.

He’s right. Cuban further argues that amateurs—college players—should be selected for FIBA and IOC events instead of NBA players. This eliminates the risk of any loss of financial assets—to who? Not the players, but to the teams. It’s greedy, but sensible.

But now consider the situation that the Indiana Pacers now find themselves in. This is where Cuban and the owners have theirmost convincing point.

George recently signed a five-year $92 million extension with the Pacers as their franchise player. He’s only 24, an MVP candidate and probably one of the top three two-way players in the world.

At a 9 to 12 month timetable for recovery, George will miss the entire 2015 regular season and playoffs—even if he goes through a miraculous, Adrian Peterson-like recovery.

How does that affect Indiana? Well given they also lost key cog Lance Stephenson to the Charlotte Hornets in free agency, they are looking like a team that probably won’t even get home court in the first round of the playoffs.

There will undoubtedly be some revenue lost due to a decrease in fan attendance. Those fans know their team won’t be nearly as potent without George.

That’s quite a fall from being the top seed in the east last season.

The problem? Indiana is completely locked into George’s contract. Much like contracts are structured in baseball, every penny of that $92 million is guaranteed to George. Just as every penny of Kobe Bryant’s absurd 2013 $24 million salary was paid to him to play all of six games for the disastrous Lakers and then live tweet complaints about his teammates and his pitiful situation when he was on the bench.

Now obviously George didn’t choose to get injured. But at the same time this is definitely an unfair hand to the Pacers. If George played for Cuban’s Mavericks--which happens to be my favorite team--his level of outrage would be on a different planet.

So in theory, here’s my take on all of this. There should be a compromise.

I am all for NBA players playing on an international stage. As I said, playing for pride is a truly inspiring thing to watch. However, I am also of the camp that believes NBA teams should be compensated by the IOC for any bodily harm sustained by the team’s player while competing at IOC events.

Theoretically, the Pacers should have been compensated by the IOC for George’s brutal injury. If the player misses games with his NBA team in its season, the team should be compensated equal to half of the amount George would normally be paid by the team over those games.

So in George’s case, he’ll make $15,925,680 for the 2014-15 season of which he’ll miss the entirety of. He’s guaranteed his money regardless and thusly it doesn’t make much sense to compensate him further rather than his team. Instead, the Pacers should be paid exactly half of that in direct compensation by the IOC.

The team is still losing money, but $8 million is plenty enough to go out and sign another player who could help cushion the blow of George’s loss. Again, it’s about a compromise.

At the end of the day, these players choose to represent their countries, but they or their teams should not enter into the reality of extra games, wear and tear and a very real risk of a serious injury--just as likely as any other NBA game--without some return.

The NBA and its players take all the risk here, while the IOC rakes in all the profit.

That just isn’t right.

 

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