Tonight, when Paul George dons the red, white, blue for USA Basketball's first exhibition game against Argentina, the two-way star will look the ghosts of his past squarely in the eye. Even if he says his focus is on winning a gold medal, the friendly between the two countries will not be taking place at the Thomas & Mack Center, where George crashed into a basket stanchion and suffered an open tibia-fibula fracture almost two years ago, but the change of venue at T-Mobile Arena likely won't erase his not-so-fond memories: the sight of his own bone, the feeling of someone pouring gasoline on his leg and then lighting a match, and the eerie sound of deafening silence.
Unfortunately, whether due to some element of physiology or psychology, it is often easier to remember negative events than positive ones. For this reason, there will likely always be as much or more of a correlation for fans between Paul George and Las Vegas as there is between Indiana's franchise player and his iconic dunk over Chris "Birdman" Andersen. But, perhaps, this mental linkage is also the product of the changes both named parties have effected upon each other. An ill-fated moment temporarily stunted the three-time All-Star's career trajectory, while his resulting injury expedited moves to make baselines safer on UNLV's campus as well as in the NBA.
Yet, since August of 2014, change has almost become second-nature for George. From having to relearn how to cut, jump, and land on his surgically repaired leg without compensating to bidding farewell to his coach of six seasons as well as every single teammate by with whom he made consecutive trips to the Eastern Conference Finals, there has been more forced adaptation and changeover than sameness.
"It just goes to show the evolution of this game," George told SB Nation NBA's Paul Flannery. "I'm looked upon as the leader and the longest tenured Pacer now. It's sunk in, but I don't think it will officially sink in until training camp starts and I'm looking around and I'm the face of it."
Still, as much as the lock down perimeter defender's gruesome injury set off a chain of events that would not only pause his career for a season but deconstruct the Indiana Pacers from a beast of the East to a lottery team, George's belief in the transformative power of summer basketball has, rather remarkably, remained intact.
In a likely nod to his new Olympic ad campaign with Gatorade, the 6-foot-9 star says his decision to come back and play for Team USA was motivated by the hopes and dreams of "kid Paul George," but using the opportunity as a means to improve isn't lost on him, either.
"I think that's where guys take the next step, is learning how to space the floor, learning how to cut, learning how to play on the boards — battle on the boards — I think just playing off the ball is when guys take that next step," George told Pacers.com of learning how to play off the ball alongside five players that know how to score.
With his injury behind him and an eye on the "something special" he thinks the Pacers have "cooking" in Indiana next season, the time has finally come for Paul George to close the door on the past and create a new memory with Team USA.
"This is like redemption for myself," George told Taylor Bern. "All the bad that happened that night and now I have this opportunity again to represent my country. It's special."
George's fearless drive to improve back in the same city where his career was almost derailed. Well, that's pretty special, too.
For more on Paul George rejoining Team USA:
Paul George is rewriting his Team USA legacy at the scene of his gruesome injury - SB Nation
Paul George Returns to Form with USA Basketball - USAB
After horrific break, Pacers' George hopes Olympic redemption is final answer - NBA.com
Paul George Joins USA Basketball for Training Camp - Pacers.com
After a bad break, Paul George ready for Olympic redemption - ESPN.com