The NBA Shamefully Devalues Its ProductThe San Antonio-Golden State game last Saturday night should have created memories to last for decades but instead it was a travesty and a disgrace. It is unfortunate but understandable that legitimate health issues prevented Kawhi Leonard, LaMarcus Aldridge and Kevin Durant from playing but the decisions by San Antonio Coach Gregg Popovich and Golden State Coach Steve Kerr to sit out the rest of their healthy starters with the number one seed in the Western Conference on the line is one of the most disappointing things that I have had the misfortune to witness in the decades that I have religiously followed the NBA. I was looking forward to that game all week--and, indeed, for the whole season, as were many other diehard NBA fans. When I was a kid, Philadelphia-Boston, Philadelphia-L.A. and Boston-L.A. were matchups to be anticipated and savored; those games foreshadowed the Eastern Conference Finals and/or the NBA Finals for every year from 1980-85. The big-time stars rarely missed those games and when they did sit out they had real injuries; no one was "resting."
Why should anyone take the NBA regular season seriously anymore? Clearly, the two best teams in the league do not think that the regular season matters, nor do they believe that homecourt advantage in the Western Conference Finals matters.
The NBA is walking on treacherous ground here. A game between bench players to potentially decide who will have the best chance to represent the Western Conference in the NBA Finals is even more damaging to the league than the farce known as the NBA All-Star Game.
Some people are just throwing their hands up and acting like there is no solution to this but that is the Bud Selig approach, made most famous when he shrugged his shoulders as the 2002 MLB All-Star Game ended in a tie. If David Stern were still the NBA Commissioner, Saturday's nonsense would have never happened--or it only would have happened once. When Popovich tried a similar stunt on Stern's watch in November 2012 (sitting out four of his top players during the Spurs' only visit to Miami), Stern immediately announced, "I apologize to all NBA fans. This was an unacceptable decision by the San Antonio Spurs and substantial sanctions will be forthcoming." Stern was not bluffing. He hit the Spurs with a $250,000 fine and this verbal broadside: "The result here is dictated by the totality of the facts in this case. The Spurs decided to make four of their top players unavailable for an early-season game that was the team's only regular-season visit to Miami. The team also did this without informing the Heat, the media, or the league office in a timely way. Under these circumstances, I have concluded that the Spurs did a disservice to the league and our fans."
Worth noting is that Adam Silver--then Stern's right hand man--had publicly stated in April 2012, "The strategic resting of particular players on particular nights is within the discretion of the teams. And Gregg Popovich in particular is probably the last coach that I would second-guess."
Stern was a strong-willed Commissioner and he could be condescending to the media at times, so it is not surprising that when Stern retired many media members piped up about how Silver would supposedly be a breath of fresh air. Silver is not the type to challenge a media member's question or a media member's command of the facts. I am not going to say that Silver has been a bad Commissioner but it is ridiculous to even put him in the same conversation with Stern, who is on the short list of greatest sports commissioners ever.
Commissioner Silver needs to step in immediately and decisively to make sure that Saturday night's fiasco never happens again on his watch:
1) All ticket buyers for Saturday's game should receive a full refund from the league, with the cost split evenly among the Warriors and the Spurs.
2) The NBA should refund whatever portion of TV money it received for selling the rights to the game to ABC, with that cost again split among the Warriors and the Spurs.
3) None of the healthy players who sat out should receive a game check; if they want to rest on company time, then they can do it on their own dime--and if they object to being unemployed for a day, then their union should file a grievance against the teams and/or the league for artificially manipulating the sport's competitive balance. The forfeited game checks should be pooled together and donated to help out people who are truly involuntarily unemployed.
4) Both teams should be fined at least $250,000 each, with the specter of larger fines looming if this offense is repeated.
Some will say that the Warriors and Spurs are acting intelligently to preserve the health of their players. If that is really the case, then the owners and players must immediately agree to shorten the season to however many games they deem to be safe and they must construct a schedule that eliminates "unhealthy" back to back or four game in five night scenarios. If health is truly at stake, then the schedule must be changed. Of course, that would mean less revenue for the owners and players but that is a small price to pay for the sake of players' health.
I think that health is just an excuse being used by these coaches to justify tweaking the league for its scheduling and/or to avoid having a showdown between the top teams until absolutely necessary. Players used to thrive on competition but, as we saw during the All-Star Game, that is clearly not the case now. It almost seems like these teams were afraid to put their best foot forward and possibly lose, so instead they made the game so farcical that no one can derive any meaning from the outcome.
Durability used to be a mark of pride for the sport's greatest players. Wilt Chamberlain once averaged more than 48 mpg for an entire season, meaning that he played every minute of regulation plus every minute of overtime (I think that he actually was ejected from one game and thus missed a few random minutes but he played enough overtime sessions to keep his average above 48 mpg). Michael Jordan played in all 82 games nine times, including in his final season as a 39 year old Wizard with at least one decrepit knee. He played more than 3000 minutes in 12 different seasons; the only times he missed that mark were when he broke his foot during his second season, when he played 17 games during his first comeback in 1994-95 and when he played 60 games as a 38 year old during the first season of his second comeback. My basketball hero Julius Erving played in all 84 games in four of his five ABA seasons and in his 11 year NBA career he played 82 games twice, 81 games once and at least 77 games four other times. Until his final season as a 37 year old (when he played a career-low 60 games), Erving's lowest total was 71 games in his second season, when he missed a few games due to a contract dispute that eventually wound its way through the court system--and he proceeded to average a career-high 41.2 mpg the rest of the way in that campaign.
There are many other examples of great players from bygone eras playing almost every game and averaging a high number of minutes while doing so. How is it possible that modern players who have the best possible diets, chartered flights and state of the art treatment/recovery options cannot play most if not all 82 games?
posted by David Friedman @ 2:11 AM