Kevin Ware was having a relaxing evening at home in Atlanta on Friday night. He watched the first half of Team USA's scrimmage on ESPN before returning to the game in the fourth quarter. And then he wished he hadn't.
Ware saw Indiana Pacers forward Paul George catch his right foot awkwardly in the basket stanchion while attempting to block a shot. He saw George's lower leg shatter. His mind began to race.
"I never thought I would see something like that," the former Louisville guard said by phone on Saturday. "It was definitely some shock, and it sent chills through my body. I didn't even know what to do or what to think, so I just had to walk out of the room. I asked somebody, 'Did that just happen?' I was out of the room for 10 minutes like, 'Did that really happen?' And I saw him down on the stretcher and was just like, 'Oh, my God.'"
George suffered compound fractures of his tibia and fibia bones in the exhibition game in Las Vegas, and he could miss all of next season. As Ware watched, he was instantly transported back to March 31, 2013, back to Indianapolis, back to the court in Louisville's NCAA regional final against Duke. On that day, Ware was the one on his back, staring blankly toward the ceiling after his leg had snapped in two from one fateful step.
Ware said that if George's experience was like his, he probably was sensing no pain after the injury. There was too much adrenaline, too much confusion. Ware remembers feeling the medical staff quickly realign his leg, a quick jolt followed by an eerie peace.
"But then my adrenaline calmed down, and it was just me in the ambulance, and I remember feeling even those little bumps in the road," said Ware, who transferred to Georgia State this summer. "I could feel all of that. Then for the next few days I was on so many pain medications that I didn't feel much."
The morning after his injury, Ware woke up and was surrounded by his parents and his Louisville coaches. They had brought the NCAA regional championship trophy, and that made Ware smile. He remembers being asked what he wanted to eat. He asked for food from Hooters, even though it was 10 a.m., and the restaurant wasn't open yet.
Ware said the most important part of that day came later, when he summoned the courage to take a few gentle steps on crutches.
"The sooner [George] can get his confidence up and put his leg down, the better he'll be," Ware said. "It's all about his mind over matter, and Paul George is one of the strongest people, so I truly think he can get through this."
Ware said George's patience will be tested in the coming months. Sometimes he would start to feel better, start to feel like himself, and then realize he was still restricted, still waiting.
"The biggest thing is time, honestly," Ware said. "A lot of the time you think your body is strong enough to do stuff, and it's not. And I'm not even talking basketball, I'm just talking about him having to get his knees back strong and his quads and things like that. That's the toughest part."
Before Ware focused on returning to a basketball court, he was focused on things like leg raises. He said it will be important for George to continue to work on his healthy left leg so the two are strengthened in tandem.
At times, Ware was shaken by his sudden celebrity. He had essentially become famous because of an injury, and he said he is 'one of the quietest guys in the world,' so the attention was unsettling and at times even suffocating. It became so intense that Ware eventually sought out secret routes to and from classes.
For George, that part shouldn't be an issue. He is already famous, and he will not have to do things like walk across a college campus each day. But now he will face the reality that he is no longer just Paul George the all-star, he is Paul George, the all-star who had the gruesome leg injury.
Ware went to several Pacers games during his three-year stay in Louisville and is a big fan of George's. He wants to reach out to him when the frenzy settles. And Ware knows better than anyone that there will be a frenzy.
"Even if it's just a text message," he said. "I'm sure everyone's calling his phone now. I don't need to go into what happened to me, but maybe just offer some words of encouragement."
By the time Ware awoke on Saturday morning, he had received more than 500 text messages from friends and family members. They wanted to know if he had seen the injury. They wanted to know how he was handling it.
Ware admitted that it had shaken him. It had reopened old wounds. Georgia State was to play its first scrimmage of the summer on Saturday afternoon, and Ware planned to visit his athletic trainer first, if only for peace of mind. Even though Kevin Ware is now healthy, the scars remain visible and the memories remain vivid.
Adam Himmelsbach writes for the Louisville Courier-Journal.
USA TODAY Sports' Sam Amick discusses the gruesome injury Paul George suffered during a USA Basketball scrimmage. Sam Amick, USA TODAY Sports