Stop me if you've heard this one before: an NBA superstar asks for a trade. That superstar is eventually granted that trade. That superstar is booed whenever he returns to the original team's arena. In the player empowerment era, this hardly even qualifies as news anymore. It's just another day.
Paul George was the latest superstar to hear the boo-birds, as he returned to Indiana to face the first (but not the last) team that he left via trade demand in the Pacers. This was not his first trip back to Bankers Life Fieldhouse, but you wouldn't know it from the boos. Fans went after George as ferociously as ever. The Los Angeles Clippers' superstar took issue with that. In his mind, he is not at fault for what happened in Indiana.
"You know, someday I'll do a tell-all and tell the leading events of how I left Indiana," George said according to Ohm Youngmisuk of ESPN. "And I promise you, I'm not the one to boo." He later elaborated that the people who do deserve boos from Pacers fans were "here a lot longer than I am."
Who might he be referring to? It's hard to say. The president of basketball operations who handled his trade request, Kevin Pritchard, was elevated into that role less than two months before agreeing to trade George. He had been with the organization since 2011, but that hardly seems to be who George is targeting. Conversely, long-time executives Larry Bird and Donnie Walsh had both relinquished their official positions within the organization prior to the George trade. Owner Herb Simon purchased the team in 1983, and is known to operate the franchise with among the lowest budgets in basketball, but largely has a clean reputation around the league.
Did these people do a particularly good job of building a franchise around George? No. By the time he was dealt, the Pacers were mired in mediocrity, and it's entirely possible that things they did behind the scenes compounded the issue. But does that make George blameless here, as he indicates by saying he isn't the one who should be booed?
Absolutely not. Perhaps there were problems behind the scenes that haven't been leaked to the public, but none of that changes the fact that George asked for a trade. Are Pacers fans supposed to celebrate a player who decided that he didn't want to play for them? Of course not. If the incident had been isolated, perhaps George could justify blaming it on the Pacers, but only two years later, he forced his way out of Oklahoma City in exactly the same fashion despite making it clear in both his words and his contract that he had "unfinished business" with the Thunder.
Whether you agree or disagree with the degree to which George has taken control of his career is a matter of opinion, but the practice of demanding trades in the modern NBA is fairly common. Players are the primary beneficiaries, as they are the ones who find themselves in theoretically preferable environments. There is nothing stopping them from making such requests, but by the same token, there is nothing stopping fans from expressing their opinions about it. George forced his way off of two teams despite being under contract. Regardless of what led to those decisions, they are certainly boo-worthy. If other people in Indiana deserve to be booed, then that is an entirely separate conversation.
Between George and, superstar players seem to be asking for a double standard. They want to commit boo-worthy acts without being subjected to those boos. In actuality, they are just the cost of doing business. Players have more control over their careers than ever before. Accepting the anger of fans who are punished for that seems like a more than fair trade-off.