Why the NBA’s New Safety Rules Wouldn’t Have Saved Paul George

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When Paul George broke his leg on a stanchion earlier this summer in Las Vegas, warming up for the FIBA World Cup, the murmurings around the league about increased player safety became louder and louder. While the opinion that there is not enough space around an NBA basketball court for the guys actually playing the game is neither new nor open to much debate — there’s hardly a game that goes by during the regular season where a player who tries to make a hustle play gets entangled with photographers or fans — the league is now making moves to try and make sure that the likelihood for injury is lower.

Giving players an extra foot of space around the hoop’s stanchion, and capping the number of photographers around the rim at twenty, four fewer than last year, the league released a memo, posted in part by the Associated Press, detailing the changes earlier this week. For anyone who’s a fan of NBA stars having enough room to play the game that we all pay to watch, this is a good thing. Unfortunately, these changes would have made exactly zero difference in keeping Paul George’s leg in one piece.

What really screwed George was the NBA’s insistence in holding the Team USA warmups in Las Vegas. The Thomas & Mack Center, where the Team USA game was held — the league also holds the annual Summer League tournament there — features stanchions that are significantly closer to the court than a regulation game. While the new rules are a good way to prevent injuries during the regular season, it does absolutely nothing to help players when they step outside of the 82-game grind. When the NBA says that these measures were being adopted before Paul George’s injury, we believe it, since the association clearly wasn’t planning on someone losing an entire season in Vegas.

“The conversations about this topic preceded Paul’s injury by several years,” NBA executive Rod Thorn told the AP. “But of course when an injury occurs like the one to Paul, it reaffirms the changes we have made and the need to continue to evaluate our policies.”

Thorn also mentioned that this move was told to the owners during their meeting in July, well before George’s injury — which means that Thorn’s right, in that the discussion, or ‘conversation,’ had absolutely nothing to do with allowing NBA players to play in arenas that don’t meet league regulations, since the Thomas & Mack arena doesn’t have the space to move the stanchions back far enough to be identical to the normal NBA spacing (you can see the difference in the Twitter picture above).

The balance between adequate coverage of NBA games, something everyone wants, and player safety, also something everyone wants, is tricky, and the league has determined that keeping everyone happy is a tricky process best fixed through incremental means. But until the NBA figures out how to export that level of safety to extracurricular games that players find themselves in, while still arranging for its players to participate in those games, it’s a mostly empty gesture.