Think back to August 1, 2014 at the 9:33 mark in the 4th quarter of Team USA’s intra-squad scrimmage. Me? I was driving home from a friend’s wedding and another friend riding in the car was feeding me progressively-worse updates about Paul George’s gruesome injury from the backseat. Then, when I got home, I unnervingly watched the video and saw George’s leg get caught under the basket stanchion, which was closer to the out of bounds line than it would be for a normal NBA game.
Even during a normal NBA game, there’s also a bunch of photographers near the baseline that players frequently spill into in addition to having to avoid the stanchion. It’s not uncommon for players to take a tumble into Photography Row and walk away a little banged up. Miraculously, it doesn’t happen more often and rarely does anybody walk away with serious injuries, but this has been a legitimate gripe for years. Remember, in a playoff game a couple years ago, then-Pacer Darren Collison hurt his ankle in an early-round playoff game after landing on the photographers.
Just a few seasons back, there were 40 spots allotted to photographers along the baseline, but according to a recent report from the Associated Press, that number will now be down to 20 total, 10 on each baseline. In addition, extra room will be added between the basket and the nearest photographer, now nearly four feet of space.
Before anybody starts dubbing this the “Paul George Rule,” this apparently has been in the works for a while and, according to the report, this change started to take shape before George’s injury, even though official memos were just recently sent to NBA clubs. But no doubt, any delays and formalities that may have been lingering were likely put on the fast track following George’s incident.
When I was in college, I ran cameras for Indiana Hoosier basketball and football games along the baseline. I can tell you first-hand, it was legitimately nerve-racking when a fast-break was headed straight for me, when athletes who have a good one foot and 100 pounds on me are sprinting full boar. So, there is a matter of improved safety measures for the media members, as well. There will be some complaints from said media members, saying that this affects them and their ability to do their job. While one should be sympathetic to that, player safety is the ultimate goal here. If guys continually get hurt because of these baseline collisions, there will be no superstars to photograph. But technology and the abilities of various audio-visual equipment improves and amazes at lightning speed. I started college and started working in those live sports environments nine years ago (yikes), but I know that innovations in lenses and accessories have made big strides in just that near-decade, so I have no doubt that sports directors across the country will figure something out.
To be clear, had this rule change been in effect during the fateful Team USA game, this would not have prevented PG’s injury. The term “freak accident” has been repeatedly used to describe it, but that’s what it was. The stanchion was a little closer than normal, but Team USA has been operating for many years and this is the first major injury incident in its existence, not that it makes George’s injury any easier to swallow. It’s obviously unfortunate, and it would be just as unfortunate if it didn’t happen to a Pacer.
George’s injury is among the most devastating in Indiana sports history. But if you’re looking at the glass half-full, the incident upped the volume on the player safety conversation. Had this happened to the 15th man at the end of the bench in Milwaukee, there probably wouldn’t be as much vocalization for such changes. I expect this to be the first domino of a couple to fall as the league continues that delicate balance of keeping its players as safe as possible, while still accommodating the media who pays the bills, not to mention the also often-too-close first-row crowd members who sometimes pay into four figures for those courtside seats.
At the end of the day, the league needs to keep players safe, inconveniences to those who share the sidelines be damned. Honestly, it’s a little surprising/frustrating that it has taken this long to make changes like this, but better late than never. Now, here’s to hoping that it doesn’t take future catastrophic injuries to set more safety measures into motion.