It’s not all that surprising that professional sports second worse commissioner got something wrong. The fact that he chose to attack one of the league’s marquee franchises in the process is the real surprise. When San Antonio coach Greg Popovich decided to send home Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker and starter Danny Green, following their 5th road game in 7 days, Stern stated that there would be consequences for that action, and the result was he levied a quarter of a million dollar fine against the team.
Of course, there no action was taken against the NBA for scheduling the Spurs for a 6 games in 8 days road trip, that concluded with a game (on national television) against the defending champion Miami Heat. The Heat had played only 2 games in the prior 11 days (both at home), and figured likely to win the game no matter who the Spurs sent out on to the floor. Given that the Spurs had already won the first 5 games on their trip (including a double OT against Toronto 4 days earlier that saw the foursome of Green, Parker, Duncan, and Ginoboli rack up a combined 171+ minutes), resting their players for the long season might seem like the right thing to any thinking person.
The problem with that is, the NBA, like all ‘major’ sports has become much more about the profits that are to be made than necessarily about who is winning or losing a championship (unless the NBA determines a specific franchise winning a title would be more profitable.) As Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban was completely right when he said “We’re still a business” that national t.v. contracts are “the money train” for the NBA business model. He argues, as would David Stern et al, that the product is damaged when big-name players don’t play.
Really? Thursday night’s games actually was a well-played, well-coached game that saw San Antonio with the lead with 23 seconds left in the game. A 3-pointer by the Bane of Boston (Tony Allen) gave the Heat a two point lead with 22.6 seconds lefts, and another Lebron choke moment (hitting only 1 of 2 free throws with 20 seconds left) gave the Spurs a chance to tie with a 3-pointer with 15 seconds left. It didn’t pan out, but after the teams traded free throws (Lebron was not involved, or else the game may have had a different outcome), the Spurs had one more chance to tie the game with 6.9 seconds left.
Isn’t that the exact ending that television execs want? A game that isn’t decided until the very final moments, with one play likely to be the deciding factor? Why should it matter who the Spurs did or did not suit up? And can we stop pretending just for one moment that anyone was watching the game for any specific player except Lebron James? (Whether they were rooting for him or against him.) He was the marquee guy in the matchup, whether Duncan, Green, Ginoboli, or Parker were on the floor, the only guy anyone would have cared about was Lebron, and he played.
So the t.v. execs got what they wanted (an exciting, down to the wire game), the Heat and their fans got what they wanted (a win that might not have happened if the entire Spurs team had shown up to play), and the Spurs got what they wanted (rest for their core players, along with a chance to send a message to the Heat.) Also, the Spurs won their game on Saturday against the Memphis Grizzlies, who they are in a battle with for the Southwest division. If the Spurs were only going to win one of those two games, doesn’t it just make all the sense in the world that they do everything in their power to make sure they win the game that will most affect their post-season position?
Anyone with half a brain would say yes, but that wasn’t enough for David Stern. He had to send a message that he’s still in control (FYI: You’re not, David. You proved that when you caved to the players last year.) Once upon a time, David Stern was the great commissioner in professional sports. Now? His time has passed him by, and he’s saved from ranking dead last only by the grace of Gary Bettman’s attempt to ruin the NHL.
When Stern sits around and wonders where his fan base is going to, he should stop and consider moments like this. Fans who care about the game (actual “fans”) understand that guys who have made at least 5 flights in 7 days might be a little worn down and could use a break. Fans who are interested in seeing their team win come June (when winning matters most) understand that a rested team is more likely to to bring home another championship. “Fans” who only care about what guys did or did not suit up in a relatively meaningless November game really are not who the league ought to be marketing to.
Do you think Stern made the right call? Or is it the coach’s/team management’s decision about when to rest players?
Let me know what you think: