Understanding the Paul Lee Situation

We all believe that the life of a PBA player is perfect.

Brand new cars and vacation tours.
Ladies wanting to get your number.
Six-digit monetary bonuses from game wins.
All these things on top of getting paid to play the game we all love.

Life goals!

But lost behind the fame and fortune of being a professional athlete in a basketball crazed-country are the sacrifices that each player has to make.

The all out morning scrimmages, numerous drills and gym sessions, endless preparations and scouting for their next game – these are just some of the things that every fan will have to consider and understand first before criticizing the absence of Paul Lee from the Gilas selection.

According to Spin.ph, the management of San Miguel Corporation had to pull Lee out of the national pool due to a lingering knee injury, which is something he already had before his trade from Rain Or Shine last year.

As soon as the news broke out, the first reactions were… let’s just say, not nice. Some have questioned his commitment while others have criticized the SMC management for getting in the way of the national team backed by the MVP group. It made things worse when Lee was seen participating in the Hotshots’ tune-up game two days after teammate Allein Maliksi replaced him in the pool and that he was also in the starting lineup for their first Comissioner’s Cup game against Phoenix.

At 28, Paul Lee is entering his peak and we all expect him to perform at a high level for the next 3 years before seeing any signs of slowing down. But it doesn’t mean that the immense workload of carrying the offense for the Star Hotshots while also representing the country is something that he could easily do.

National team practices are now held thrice-a-week as Gilas prepare to name their final roster in the near future. Coupled with the responsibilities that he has for Purefoods by undergoing a different set of practices (which could go five times-a-week), one has to understand how difficult of a task that is for a basketball player. To put that in perspective, just imagine how stressful it already is for someone who has a 9-to-6 job while also handling a sideline business, which is mentally taxing. Basketball is both mentally and physically stressful, especially for someone who reportedly has a lingering knee injury.

Knee injuries are very tricky if not handled properly. Lee was diagnosed with a meniscal tear, though the severity was never disclosed. Gary David recently had to miss time late last year due to a minor meniscus tear while Mike Cortez was out for five months after having surgery for the same injury 3 years ago. Though Lee being able to suit up for their Wednesday’s game against Phoenix could mean it’s a very minor one, lessening the impact on the knees from practices and games while also getting enough rest will surely help.

No one should also play the blame game on the SMC group for removing one of their marquee players from the pool because they have every right to do so.

In 2014, Paul George of the Indiana Pacers was fresh off signing a 5-year max contract before suffering a gruesome injury in a Team USA exhibition game. The Pacers had to live with the consequence of a lost season as they went on to narrowly miss the NBA Playoffs while George was on the mend. Three years since the injury and George has returned to the NBA’s hierarchy of stars. But the domino effect of the George injury has resulted to major changes in the franchise – Pacers lost both Frank Vogel (now coaching Orlando) and David West (now playing for Golden State), and could soon lose Paul George as the team continues to be nowhere near contention.

Paul Lee’s talent is far from Paul George but his importance to the SMC group is on par with PG13.

After the blockbuster trade that brought him to the Hotshots, Lee signed a two-year max contract that will pay him Php 420k a month. The SMC group didn’t give up Php 10M just for Paul Lee’s talent, but also to have their brand plastered on one of the local stars in front of millions of fans that are also their target market and end consumer.

The PBA is a sports league/advertising agency after all.

Which is why it’s also understandable that SMC also can’t afford to let one of their investments at risk of having an injury that could also put the Hotshots’ season in limbo.

To be fair to SMC, if it’s true that they want to keep their marquee players off the national team for their own interest, then why do they keep sending Junemar Fajardo, the league’s most dominant player, and Japeth Aguilar to join Gilas? An injury to either of the two could easily derail their team’s title chances but SMC continues to grant the request of Gilas.

Paul Lee may or may not return to the pool, but the future is still bright for Gilas. With the right mix of veterans, cadets, and coaching staff, we may still very well be competing for another slot in the Olympics. Hopefully we, the fans, could see that behind all the glitz and glamour that comes with being a PBA player is the fact that they are humans just like us.

Only with better cars.

– David Gamboa

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