Blake Griffin’s meniscus tear in his left knee was a bummer, and a highlighter to the fine print of the Olympics reminding everyone, fans and players and franchises alike, that there is potential NBA-impacting risk involved here. That’s where conversation will shift, and though it thankfully appears Griffin will be ready for training camp, another injury to a star and Mark Cuban will probably start a one-man torches-and-pitchforks rally outside Team USA’s headquarters.
But what else, other than hoping for the best, can be done? Kevin Durant, during his summer tour of blacktops and sweaty little gymnasiums during the lockout last summer, could’ve heard something pop. Kyrie Irving will be playing with the Cleveland Cavaliers summer league team in Las Vegas next week, and, like anyone else, could get hurt somewhere along the way. Only with hindsight would we be able to say that Durant shouldn’t have been playing so much pickup or Irving didn’t need to be balling in summer league, or, guys that mean so much to their respective teams shouldn’t be playing for a gold medal in the Olympics. The issue with Griffin going forward is his mounting knee injuries, not that he signed up with Team USA. Risk of injury for basketball players or athletes in general is constant, it happens to some more than others, and I just don’t think that doom-and-gloom needs to be the focus.
Especially not when you watch Team USA in their dismantling of the Dominican Republic last night. Some of the best players in the world together, laughing on the same bench never ceases to feel slightly crazy and capable of anything. And though their opponent was basically overmatched from the start, Team USA, stylistically, is going to try leaving nothing but scorched earth behind them on their way towards gold. Last night had all the intensity of a light jog around the neighborhood at dusk, and still this team’s awesome collection of talent breathes run-outs and drive-and-kicks like their lungs produce these simple yet pretty executions along with oxygen. The shorter three-point line, clearly, is an almost-insulting joke to Kevin Durant. With the more handsy international rules in place, the likes of LeBron James and Kobe Bryant and Carmelo Anthony, out hedging on pick-and-rolls, can swarm and swipe at ball-handlers on the perimeter like Jurassic Park’s velociraptors converge on a ritual feeding cow. Anthony Davis, Griffin’s replacement, saw time and capped off a night in which he looked pretty natural on the floor with All-Stars with a four-point play and loving sneer at his former coach, John Calipari. If Davis remains healthy, this Olympic experience could turn out to be a gargantuan confidence boost for the number one pick going into his first NBA season in New Orleans.
All this is just a light recap, and you remember it’s only the first exhibition game for Team USA. That’s when it comes full circle: These practice games especially will only be remembered for what could happen in the Olympics, what sort of mania could be caused when the stakes are higher, what might happen when our nation’s best are pushed out of their comfort zone, and of course, the one dark cloud in the sky, if anyone else should fall with an injury. Going down in a practice will never feel as right, or justifiable, as getting hurt in the fourth quarter of a tight game, but it rarely happens that way, either. Injuries just plain suck, yet they’re a fact of the sporting life. If and when they happen, mourn appropriately. Let’s just be sure to not lose sight of this rare occasion when the game’s greatest team up to win something together, and maybe more importantly, team up so we can catch a glimpse, for a few brief weeks, of what fantasy looks like in reality.
Griffin Gotta contributes to The Hoop Doctors and is a co-managing editor of Straight Outta Vancouver on SB Nation. The story arcs and infinite weirdness of the NBA are addictions he deals with every day. Email him at griffingotta at gmail dot com.