NEW YORK — His leg is healed, his jersey number has changed, and his headgear is custom. Not bad for nearly six months work from Paul George.
After suffering a compound tibia-fibula fracture in a Team USA intrasquad scrimmage in August, George has had substantial downtime when not rehabbing the injury. He invested much of that time in healing, rest and relaxation, but a keen interest in fashion helped lead to a unique partnership with the hat company in the meantime. On Friday at New York’s 40/40 Club, George unveiled New Era’s PG-13 collection, featuring three unique Pacers-inspired caps.
Though he’s been unable to help the Pacers, who remain in contention for one of the East’s final playoff seeds, George took it upon himself to “bring some style to Indiana,” a state he admitted isn't known for its flashiness. He worked with New Era designers and cutting-edge software to develop Indiana’s old-school uniform aesthetic away from the court.
“I wasn't always fortunate enough to get the things I wanted growing up, but I’ve always had an eye for fashion and what looked good,” George told SI.com. “It’s a dream being able to design my own look.”
Meanwhile, the Pacers have scrapped along without their star, and with their own stylish vision in mind. This one features George’s once-improbable March return, a push into the post-season, and the thought of emerging as a first-round sleeper story.
“Being underdogs is what we built our name on,” George said, with regards to the pressure-free implications of a Pacers playoff berth. “We got really good and were expected to win and be great, and we kind of bought into that. I think being the underdog is our real identity”.
George has circled March 1 as the date he hopes to officially begin practicing and said he hopes a couple weeks of conditioning will let him retake the floor. He hopes to make it back regardless of where Indiana sits in the race.
“I find a lot of positives in making a comeback [this season],” he said. “For one, it’s getting the game reps. I don’t want my first couple of games back to be next year and trying to get in a rhythm. I want to nip all of that in the bud, so going into the summer I have a feel of what I need to work on.”
The effort of his teammates and head coach Frank Vogel makes George’s decision much simpler. It’s surprisingly easy to forget that the Pacers won 56 games, the most in the East last season, with Lance Stephenson the only notable departure from that team.
“I think they’ve done a great job up until this point, George said. “We’ve had 6 or 7 guys rotating in and out of the lineup with injuries. For us to still be two games back, we’ve had a great year. I think coach has done a great job with what he’s been dealt, and I don’t think they’re getting the credit they deserve.”
Whenever George steps back on the court, he’ll return to a division that now registers as one of the NBA’s toughest, with LeBron James in Cleveland, the retooled Bulls threatening, and young promising teams in Milwaukee and Detroit. The Pacers' road to the postseason won't come easy, but neither has George's rehabilitation from a devastating injury.
“I love competition and would love to be considered one of the game’s highest competitors,” George said. “I love the matchups the Cleveland rivalry, the Chicago rivalry. Detroit and Milwaukee are on the come-up as well. I think it strengthens not only our division, but also the east. I look forward to it when I return healthy.”