When players such as Kevin Love or Kawhi Leonard beg out of Team USA commitments as the pair did this summer, we as a sports nation pretty much shrug. We get the business side (Love’s impending trade) and the physical side (Leonard missed games due to “jumpers knee” a couple years ago then has gone to two straight finals). Plus, we know that with the insanely deep talent pool of American players they will be replaced on the roster by guys who would be the best player on 95 percent of other nation’s teams.
Not so when Dirk Nowitzki skips on Germany for a summer. Their team takes a big hit.
Or when Manu Ginobili is not cleared to play for Argentina, as the Spurs did this summer.
Ginobili, at age 37, is coming off a stress fracture in his leg and the Spurs have some legitimate wear and tear concerns there, so they did not clear him. San Antonio played the heavy. (The NBA’s agreement with FIBA says teams can hold players back for legitimate medical reasons.)
Ginobili described himself as “sad and disappointed” about it in the Argentinian paper La Nacion (where he has a regular column), as transcribed by the Express-News’ Spurs blog.
“I very much regret the bad news. I wanted to say goodbye to the team on the court and be with my friends, but it cannot be. I’ll be with the team as long as possible, trying to add from the outside and supporting at all times….
“For the bone to be well sealed and not remain any doubts, I had spent 42 days without being able to train as usual, no jumping or running, so as not to put stress on the fibula. And that made me reach the training camp in a painful physical condition. When one is 37 years old, it is not easy to return and start from nothing, so we tried to accelerate a little at a time. I started the physical work in the pool acceptably, but when I went to the treadmill there began to emerge some pain, mostly in the right ankle and left foot.
“I did a lot of treatment and a lot of stretching, and it seemed to be a little better, but when on Wednesday I began to force more to run and shoot in the gym, at the end of the training session the pain reappeared in the same place of the original fibular fracture. That basically gave the final blow to the expectations I had to assemble some kind of plan to play in Spain.”
That’s a legitimate concern by the Spurs, to be sure.
What they were allowed to do is play the heavy and take the pressure of the decision off Ginobili — in Argentina they would have asked him to play through the pain.
Which brings us back to the post Paul George injury discussion of international competition. For a lot of teams it’s not the kind of catastrophic injury that George suffered that is the biggest concern — that really can happen anywhere, anytime — but rather the wear and tear on older players. They are pressured to play through injuries because their team needs them to have any shot, and with that their bodies do not get rested and healed before the next NBA season.
There are no easy answers there. But when the Spurs can play the heavy and take the pressure off Ginobili, they were smart to do so.