Paul George and the L.A. Story

Paul George was the Eastern Conference Player of The Week, Nov. 23-29

The Lakers were never Paul George’s favorite team, an oddity for someone who grew up in the L.A. suburb of Palmdale where Lakers fans are seemingly everywhere. But Paul George was a Clippers fan.

Whatever affection George wouldn’t pass the Lakers way, he delivered in spades for Kobe Bryant, his favorite player. Paul George was a Kobe Bryant devotee, something former Pacers coach, Brian Shaw, used at his advantage in his development of George.

Shaw, a Bryant teammate and friend, regaled young George with Kobe stories, particularly stories about his work ethic and his relentelessness about the game. He would say to George, “you know what Kobe is doing right now? He’s working out.” Or, “Kobe doesn’t get tired, he just gets more focused.” Framing success within the Kobe parameter was one of the teaching tools that helped George take his undeniable talent and mold it into stardom.

A lot has changed for both players, but one thing that remains the same is how George feels about Bryant. Before the game George said “he’s still my idol”. No explanation necessary. If you grew up admiring a star you understand exactly what that means. Larry Bird has a bad back and cannot walk. But he’s still my idol. Magic Johnson has HIV. But he’s still my idol. Michael Jordan is a fraction of himself. But he’s still my idol. Kobe Bryant has played 20 NBA seasons. But he is still my idol.

It was Paul George and not C.J. Miles who guarded Bryant most of the game, not out of necessity though. Bryant isn’t a threat on offense anymore. Miles could have done it. He guarded Kobe when he was with the Jazz so George wasn’t doing Miles a favor. But it was a moment of great honor for George, and in a way, his career has come full circle. His stardom is finally cemented similarly to when Bryant played the Wizards in 2003 and he torched Jordan for 55 and Jordan couldn’t prevent the onslaught. George did the same. 39 points, 17 trips to the free throw line, 1 block, 2 steals.

After the game, George and Bryant exchanged a long hug and words. One player is going out. One player is here to stay. An era ending. An era beginning. Kobe’s generational impact on dozens of NBA players was what Paul George was thinking about post-game. And how special this Sunday night game was.

Kobe was my Michael Jordan. I remember just being at home watching games with my mom, my grandma, my dad and just idolizing him. After the game was over I’d go in the front yard and try to imitate everything that I saw. So he was in my eyes-not saying he was better than Jordan-but for me, growing up, that’s who I idolized and looked up to. That was the standard. He was the best player and it wasn’t even close.”

Paul George has finally returned to the player he used to be, as odd as that sounds for a 25 year old. But when you consider Paul George was supposed to be the next, it feels like a long time coming. It is finally his team. And his time.

A few years ago, George’s back-to-back Eastern Conference Finals appearances introduced the world to him and his career was suddenly on the fast track, his stardom cemented by what he was able to accomplish against LeBron James.

And then the crash, the gruesome summer injury, the year to recover, the fighting his way back. He has the Pacers as one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference with George as their star. They go as he goes. In the month of November, losing only two games, George has been sensational.

HIs PER is a career high, 26.1. His scoring is a career high 27.2. His field goal percentage is a career high 45%. HIs 3-point shooting is a career high 45%. His rebounding is a career high 8.1. HIs assists are a career high 4.4.

Paul George is the MVP candidate no one talks about. What other player had his team gutted of talent, was told to change positions and at the same time be the undisputed leader and not complain integrating in the new guys. And while you’re at it, change the entire style of how you play while being the second best team in the Eastern Conference. That would be nobody.

At the Wizards game on Saturday night, after John Wall blew two free throws that would have iced the game, after Corey Joseph drained a game winning three, a fan on the subway platform said,

“I can’t trust John Wall. I love Paul George. You can trust him.”

Yes. You can.

photo via llananba