"Resting" Healthy Players is not a Good TrendThe San Antonio Spurs faced the Miami Heat on Thursday night in a possible NBA Finals preview but fans who purchased tickets for this eagerly anticipated matchup did not get to see Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili play against LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh; Spurs' Coach Gregg Popovich elected to send his three stars (plus Danny Green, who started in each of the first 16 games of the season) home even though they are all healthy. The undermanned Spurs fiercely battled the Heat before falling 105-100 but that is not the point; Hall of Fame NFL Coach John Madden put it best after the New York Giants' Tom Coughlin declined to rest his players in a so-called "meaningless" game: "I think it is one of the best things that has happened to the NFL in the last 10 years and I don't know if they all know it but they should be very grateful to you and your team. We were getting too much of that 'Well, they're going to rest their players because they don't need it.' That's not sports and that's not competition. Anyway, I'm a little emotional about it but I was so damn proud of what you guys did. It is something that we all ought to thank you for because, believe me, the NFL needed that. Congratulations."
Jeff Van Gundy, an ESPN commentator and former NBA head coach, noted that it is only within the past 10 years or so that NBA teams have become so focused on resting healthy players and limiting their minutes. Players used to take pride in playing every game and only sitting out if it is absolutely necessary; Michael Jordan played all 82 games in each season of the Chicago Bulls' second three-peat even though many of those games were "meaningless." That mentality is largely extinct now with the exception of a few old school players--most notably Kobe Bryant.
NBA Commissioner David Stern apologized to all NBA fans for the Spurs' actions and declared that "substantial sanctions will be forthcoming." It is not clear exactly what Commissioner Stern can do, though, because there is not a formal rule pertaining to resting players and because several teams (including the Spurs) have rested players late in the regular season without being punished. The difference this time is that the Spurs blatantly tanked a game--regardless of the close final score, the reality is that the Spurs had little chance to beat the Heat in Miami without Duncan, Parker and Ginobili--while depriving Miami fans of their only opportunity to watch the Spurs' Big Three in person this season. Perhaps the Heat should be required to issue refunds to all of Thursday's ticket buyers and then the Spurs should be required to fully reimburse the Heat in addition to paying a fine to the league for violating the spirit of the game.
posted by David Friedman @ 2:35 PM