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Paul George's injury sparks change

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Crashing into a basket stanchion and suffering an open tibia-fibula fracture, Paul George's injury may not have instigated the NBA's decision to make baselines safer, but it probably expedited it.

Ethan Miller

After watching Tony Parker jam his finger on the camera of a photographer seated near the baseline during the third quarter of an eventual preseason loss to the Miami Heat last October, Spurs' coach Gregg Popovich refused to shy away from the opportunity to vocalize his ardent opinion about what he perceived as clear threats to player safety:

"It's kind of like when you're in your neighborhood. You keep telling people you need a stop sign, and they don't change it until a kid gets killed and then they put up a stop sign," said Gregg Popovich. "Somebody of stature is going to get seriously hurt by one of those guys, and then all hell will break loose."

Since making these remarks, a player of considerable "stature" has unfortunately gotten "seriously hurt," and, in turn, the league has, as the now reigning Coach of the Year astutely predicted, finally decided to go ahead and put up a "stop sign."

In the wake of Paul George suffering a severe injury after landing against a goal stanchion, while representing Team USA at the campus of UNLV, the NBA has unveiled new rules to make the baselines safer.

As of next season the following regulations to help better ensure the safety of the league's players will be implemented:

  • What the NBA is terming as "escape lanes," otherwise known as the unoccupied space on either side of the stanchion, will increase from 3 to 4 feet.
  • The number of camera positions will be reduced to 20 (10 on each baseline; 6 photo spots on one side of the basket and 4 on the other). This count will be down from 24 last season and 40 during 2010-2011 season.
  • Dance teams and entertainers will no longer be permitted to sit along the baseline.

Though not occurring at an NBA arena, the placement of the stanchion at UNLV's Thomas and Mack center was a hot topic of conversation in sports media during the immediate aftermath of George's leg snapping. Measured at 3 feet 11 inches behind the baseline, George's available landing space near the stanchion was less than the NBA standard (4 feet) and considerably smaller than what Vigilant Sports' Scott Agness reports is implemented by Banker's Life Fieldhouse (5 feet 5 inches).

USA Basketball president Jerry Colangelo has gone on the record saying that the stanchion was not responsible for George's injury, "Some people want to make it an issue, but it's not."

According to league president of operations Rod Thorn, George's injury in and of itself supposedly did not instigate the move to clear landing space near and around the baseline, but it, at the very least, reinforced the changes:

"The conversations about this topic preceded Paul's injury by several years," Thorn said. "As a matter of fact, at our league meetings in July we informed our teams this was the direction we were going. 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."

Currently expected to miss the entire 2014-15 season, the league's new regulations adjusting baseline space for photographers and expanding space around the basket at NBA arenas certainly will not make Paul George's open tibia-fibula fracture heal any faster.

As Popovich once lamented, it is unfortunate that it took a player suffering a serious injury to finally, as Thorn terms, "reaffirm" the need for a review of league policy or bring into question the wisdom of USA Basketball's decision to have professional athletes compete at a non-professional, college-level facility (the same location where the league holds its Vegas Summer League). Hopefully, the NBA's freshly implemented "stop sign" will help ward off any more seemingly preventable injuries occurring near and around the baseline, regardless of whether or not they are of the freak variety.