CHICAGO — Indiana Pacers forward Paul George said Monday that photos that recently surfaced of him were not part of a catfish scheme, but a fake story intended to disparage him.
George commented for the first time on a story that appeared over the weekend suggesting he had been tricked into sending revealing photos of himself to a man posing as a female fan. George strongly denied the story.
"The whole story, as far as me being "Catfished," I know the girl that sent the pictures out," George said after the Pacers' shoot-around. "It wasn't a catfish story, it was a girl. I don't want to get into the story but I know who's behind it."
Most sports fans know the term "Catfish," derived from a movie by that title, from when it was revealed that former Notre Dame linebacker Manti Teʻo had an online relationship with a man posing as a fictional woman. The original story about George appeared on a gossip website Saturday morning. Later that night, George continued his shooting slump in a game against the Memphis Grizzlies — making two of 10 attempts — but said the off-court distractions have not bothered him.
"I'm good. A lot of it is just stuff trying to bring me down," George said. "I'm good with it. The thing that just came out, it's all a fake. It really don't have any wear on me because I know it's not true."
Even so, George had to address the story hours before an important matchup against the Chicago Bulls. While sitting inside an empty United Center, veteran teammate David West warned how off-the-court distractions can make a player or team lose sight of what's important.
"Guys have to be able to keep their personal life that — as personal. A lot of that comes with just maturity and understanding any little thing can derail what you're trying to accomplish on the floor," West said. "We just got to continue to grow. Guys have to continue to be in about this situation and when you make mistakes on the floor, own up to them. When you make mistakes off the floor, own up to them. When you're not playing well, own up to it. And when we're playing well and competing at a high level, we understand that we still got work to do. All of that kinda goes to that same mix, just maximizing what we've got going on."
This isn't the first time George, the leading scorer and face of the Indiana Pacers, has made news for something other than basketball. In February, George addressed rumors he had impregnated a Miami-based exotic dancer and offered her $1 million for an abortion. George emphatically denied offering the woman money.
Now Monday morning, George again had to address a story about his personal life. He acknowledged that such stories have come with his increasing fame.
"I think so. I hate to even look at it that way. It doesn't make sense but I guess it is (a fact). People want a piece of whatever I have or — I don't know what it is," George said. "That's the reason why I'm positive about it because it's all a made-up story so it's nothing I can do. Whatever story's hot and whatever story is the latest, the media's going to run with it. So, it's me against millions, so there's not much I can do about it."
Even so, George admitted to feeling irritated over the situation and vowed to use it as motivation.
"Of course, you'd be angry about it because you work so hard for stuff, then you got stuff with people trying to bring you down," George said. "It does make you angry but I'm going to use it to energize me and fuel me going forward."
Candace Buckner writes for The Indianapolis Star and is a member of USA TODAY Sports' NBA power rankings panel.