Tamika Catchings has known Paul George since he was drafted by the Indiana Pacers in 2010.
She was sickened when she heard the news that he broke his right leg on a freak play during the U.S. men's national team scrimmage Friday. Still, the Indiana Fever star has no hesitation about suiting up for the women's national team again this fall.
"I don't think it gives me a second thought," said Catchings, a three-time Olympic gold medalist and two-time world champion. "For me representing our country is the highest honor you can have. I know I speak on behalf of all the women, and I'm sure the men too, who are trying out, it's an unfortunate injury that can happen anywhere."
Catchings' thoughts were echoed by U.S. women's national team players across the country over the weekend.
"It's part of the game, they give up their summer to go play and represent our country when they could go sit at home and do nothing," said Brittney Griner, who hopes to play for the U.S. in her first major international competition this year. "We know the risks. Every time we step out on the court, we know the risk. It's tough, it's tough."
Some NBA executives have long been concerned about injuries to players during summer competitions. A few NBA players have turned down playing for the national team because of fatigue, injury risk or contract status. Yet few women have ever said no when the U.S. comes calling.
"These guys could get hurt like that in a practice," said Washington Mystics coach Mike Thibault, who was an assistant for the U.S. women's team from 2005-2008. "Should you stop playing for your country because of this? I don't know that. That's a freak thing that happened. It could happen in your first regular-season game. I've coached USA basketball for the WNBA players and men in the past and it's a risk you take. But almost every player in the world takes it and loves to play for their country."
There is probably little that a WNBA team could do if it wanted to stop a player from competing. As it is now, most of the Australian national team players took off the WNBA season to train for the world championship this September. Countries such as Russia and Australia offer bonuses to their players for leading the national teams to medals at the Olympics and world championship. Those bonuses can approach what a player makes in the WNBA.
It comes down to simple economics and how different it is for the men and women. The top salary in the WNBA is around $110,000 while the average in the NBA is roughly $5.5 million. The U.S. men's national team players who will make the World Cup team this September earn on average nearly double that.
Most of the women's players make their money playing overseas, with the top ones earning anywhere between $600,000 and $1 million. If the situation was different, and the players could make enough to only play in the WNBA, maybe it would be different.
"It's difficult to answer that question because for a really long time that hasn't been the scenario," said Sue Bird, who has won three Olympic gold medals for the U.S. "For people my age — and the answer might be something different for somebody younger — overseas always existed but there wasn't professional basketball in the U.S. So the national team has always been on this pedestal for people in my generation. It's always been an honor to play and that was what you were striving for to make the team and represent your country. It always was the end game."
Bird went on to say that even if that scenario did exist she would still suit up for the U.S.
"I still think for me personally it would be hard to say no," the 33-year-old said.
AP freelancers Al Bravo in Phoenix, Steve Hunter in Seattle and Jack McCarthy in Chicago contributed to this report
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