Indiana Pacers All-Star Paul George has undergone successful surgery on his broken right leg and is expected to remain in the hospital for about three days.
The 6-foot-10 George had an operation at Sunrise Hospital to repair the open tibia-fibula fracture, USA Basketball said in a statement early Saturday morning. Dr. David Silverberg, Dr. Joseph Yu and USA Basketball team physician Riley Williams, were present for the surgery, the release said.
George suffered the gruesome right leg injury late in the U.S. national team’s intrasquad scrimmage Friday night. He leaped to contest a fast-break layup by James Harden with 9:33 left in the fourth quarter and his leg smashed against the bottom of the backboard stanchion and crumpled.
Trainers immediately ran onto the floor and after roughly 10 minutes of stoppage, George was taken out of the arena on a stretcher. With players looking visibly upset, coach Mike Krzyzewski then announced to the crowd that the scrimmage would not be finished out of respect to George and his family.
On Saturday morning, Larry Bird, the Pacers president of basketball operations, issued an updated statement saying it’s too early to start talking about George’s expected return.
“We are hopeful at some point next week Paul will return to Indianapolis to continue his recovery,” Bird said. “There is no question about the impact on our team but our goal is to be as strong-willed and determined as Paul will be in coming back. Our franchise has had setbacks in its history but has demonstrated the abilities to recover. Paul will provide the example of that off the court and it is up to the rest of us to provide that example on the court. Any discussion regarding the future of our team would be inappropriate at this time. Our focus is solely on Paul and doing whatever we can to help.”
Bird also said the Pacers are committed to helping the national team give basketball a global reach.
“This is a first for us in USA Basketball, to have something like this take place,” USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo said. “It’s a tough situation for our entire organization, the coaches, the players. Very, very emotional. There’s no way the game could have gone on under the circumstances.”
Doctors estimate a full recovery could take as much as 18 months.
Dr. Patrick Kersey, who treated Louisville guard Kevin Ware when he sustained a similar injury during the NCAA tournament regional finals in 2013, said George will likely need 6 to 12 weeks to recover from surgery and another 6 to 10 weeks to get back to a normal walking gait. Kersey is not treating George.
A complete recovery, Kersey said, normally takes 12 to 18 months, though the fact he is an elite athlete in top shape could speed up that timeframe.
The hardest part for the Pacers might be keeping George off the court once he thinks he’s ready.
“It’s a challenge because (athletes) want to push the envelope always,” Kersey said. “The question that is already being asked this morning is how quickly can he get back. He needs to heal. First, he has to get back to a normal life, then his body needs to work in an efficient way and once those pieces are in place, he can start training.”
George was considered a lock to make the final 12-man roster for the World Cup of Basketball that starts later this month in Spain.
“Thanks everybody for the love and support,” he wrote on Twitter. “I’ll be ok and be back better than ever!!! Love y’all!!”
The Americans planned to reduce the 20-player pool to 14 or 15 players Saturday, but put off those plans after George’s injury.
“Everything’s on hold right and it should be,” Krzyzewski said. “It would be so inappropriate for us to talk about anything else when there’s a serious injury like this.”
The defending champion U.S. team had already been weakened by player losses. Forwards Kevin Love, Blake Griffin, LaMarcus Aldridge and NBA Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard had all pulled out in recent weeks.
Krzyzewski and Colangelo refused to discuss the roster after the game, saying they didn’t even know when they would make roster reductions.
“As an organization, we’re just going to let a little bit of time go by here before we address anything like rosters, all that stuff,” Colangelo said. “It seems so unimportant in the big scheme of things when you have something like this take place. It puts things in perspective.”
George would have been a candidate to start for the Americans alongside Kevin Durant. The two, along with Harden, spent the week playing in 1-on-1 competitions after practice, pushing one another while building chemistry leading up to Friday night’s game.
George led the Pacers to the best record in the Eastern Conference before they were eliminated by Miami in the Eastern Conference finals.
The Americans have to be down to 12 players before they open the tournament on Aug. 30. They are scheduled to take the next week off before reconvening in Chicago for their next practice on Aug. 14.
Some NBA executives have long been concerned about injuries to players during summer competitions. Pau Gasol, then playing for the Memphis Grizzlies, broke his foot while leading Spain to the 2006 world title, and Manu Ginobili injured his ankle while playing for Argentina in the 2008 Olympics. He is sitting out the World Cup while recovering from a stress fracture in his right leg.
“Anything can happen anywhere, a lot of things happen,” said Krzyzewski, who was coaching Duke against Louisville when the Cardinals’ Kevin Ware broke his leg during the 2013 NCAA tournament.
“Tonight it happened during a basketball game. We need to take care of that,” Krzyzewski said. “It doesn’t mean it’ll happen again and again and again; it means that it happened right now.”