“Winning isn’t everything; it’s the only thing”, a quote originally attributed to Henry Russell (Red) Sanders, UCLA coach in 1950. More people, however, associate it with Vince Lombardi, immortal Coach of the Green Bay Packers, who most probably stole it from Russell.
God loves Greg Popovich, even if David Stern apparently does not! In a nationally televised game on Thursday night against the Miami Heat, Popovich sent his star players home: Tim Duncan; Tony Parker; Manu Ginoboli and Danny Green. This was at the end of a grueling road trip, i.e. five games in seven days. Popovich’s perspective was to look at the season long term, rather than worry about one game. Popovich put his reserves out there and they proceeded to lose the game 105-100, holding the lead until the final minute (not exactly a blow-out).
Stern issued a $ 250,000 fine against the Spurs on Saturday, stating that he "concluded the Spurs did a disservice to the league and our fans." The NBA requires teams to report on a timely basis any player who will not travel with the team due to injury, which Popovich apparently failed to do. The league's statement said the Spurs were in violation of league policy, reviewed with the board of governors in April 2010, against resting players in a manner "contrary to the best interests of the NBA." To more clearly define Stern’s position, the fans buy tickets and have a right to see the best players on the court for each game. More specifically, it is “bad business” to keep players out of a game, even if it is in the best interests of the players and the team in the long run. Stern’s comment at the time was "I apologize to all NBA fans. This was an unacceptable decision by the San Antonio Spurs and substantial sanctions will be forthcoming."
Stern is a bully and worse than that “a buffoon”. As Commissioner of the NBA, he is well aware that the 82-game NBA season wears hard on veteran players. For the record, Duncan is 36, Parker 30, Ginoboli 35, and Green 25. Note: Parker was out a good part of 2011 season with injuries. Stern is also aware of the number of NBA retired players with numerous knee injuries, leg injuries, back injuries, etc. that suffer severe physical problems during their 40’s and 50’s as a result of playing in the NBA. Studies have also shown that many professional athletes in all sports are expected to play injured or they may incur the wrath of their coaches. This fact exacerbates the probability of athletes retiring with very serious physiological problems.
For the record, Popovich has committed similar indiscretions in past years with no penalty. Popovich is a “players coach”. He has been respected as one of the top coaches in the NBA for many years. But this game was part of a nationally televised double-header, with the Miami Heat being a major TV drawing card, a marquee match-up on paper. So the hell with the health of the players, we need a good show! And yes, there were kids attending the game that may have been disappointed not to see their favorite superstar, but they will get over it. And they will still continue to be fans, and to pay megabucks for overpriced seats every year, because as we know the NBA virtually mints money!
In the playoffs last year, the Spurs met the Oklahoma Thunder. The Spurs literally blew the Thunder out in the first two games. But the much younger Thunder came roaring back to sweep the next four games. I’m fairly certain that Greg Popovich remembers that well. So he is resting his veterans in the hopes of entering the playoffs reasonably well rested and in good shape. In my opinion, that makes him a very smart coach, not exactly news to sports fans, and someone who has genuine perspective on the health of his players.
Several NBA coaches have spoken up on behalf of Popovich, including Doc Rivers, the Celtics coach, supporting Popovich’s right to coach in the best interests of the team and the players. W. Michael Hoffman, Exec. Dir. of the Center of Business Ethics at Bentley U. in Waltham, Mass. asked a very simple and a very pertinent question regarding the 105-100 final score, “What would Stern have done if they had won?”
Stern was trying to send a message to all NBA coaches. The players do not matter; if they become injured, they are replaceable. The NBA will not tolerate resting players who are not specifically listed as “having a serious injury”. Stern gets paid to put on the best show possible for the public. After all, the NBA is serious business, and nothing must cut into its growing popularity or, more specifically, its growing profits, not even the welfare of the players.