LOS ANGELES—A slew of top NBA players turned down opportunities to represent the U.S. in the Olympics this year. Two-time reigning MVP Stephen Curry, four-time MVP LeBron James, first-team All-NBA guard Russell Westbrook and first-team All-NBA forward Kawhi Leonard were part of a large group of top players who declined to travel Rio de Janeiro, citing various personal and health reasons.
Missing from that group was someone who understands the risks of playing internationally in the summer better than anyone—Indiana Pacers forward Paul George.
George suffered a gruesome compound fracture in his right leg in a scrimmage before the 2014 FIBA World Cup, missing almost the entire 2014-15 season after making two consecutive All-Star Game appearances and helping Indiana to two straight Eastern Conference Finals. The 26-year old had the best season of his career last year, averaging 23.1 points and 7.0 rebounds per game, and had a difficult decision to make about competing in Rio.
The swingman decided to compete in the Olympics despite his previous injury, and it didn't hurt that the head coach of the national team was still Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski, who has been with George ever since the shocking moment in 2014.
“That was really all I needed, to know that Coach K was in there with me. I wasn’t in there alone,” George said Sunday night after Team USA’s 106-57 victory against China in an exhibition before the Olympics. “He pretty much was just telling me he was in my corner.”
The two stayed close as George recovered from the injury. In November 2014, Krzyzewski and the Blue Devils visited the Pacers’ home arena, Bankers Life Fieldhouse, for a Champions Classic game against Michigan State. After Duke's victory, George visited the team's locker room.
And in April 2015, the day before the Blue Devils faced Wisconsin in the national championship at Lucas Oil Stadium, Krzyzewski traveled five blocks down the road to Bankers Life Fieldhouse to watch George in his first game back from injury.
"Paul and I have developed a great friendship. We correspond all the time," Krzyzewski said during the 2015 Final Four. "He's handled everything magnificently."
Although George suffered a left calf strain in Tuesday's exhibition game in Oakland, the injury is believed to be minor. When the former Fresno State star makes his Olympic debut in the coming weeks, he will be surrounded by teammates and a coach who helped him return to the international stage after a major setback.
“He was there for the whole rehab process,” George said of Krzyzewski.
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