Pearls of Wisdom

Do the Players matter in the NBA or is it just about MONEY?

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.   

www.nytimes.com, 12/01/12

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Zachary David December 05, 2012 at 08:11 PM
I have to disagree on this one. Stern was correct. When fans pay high ticket prices, and advertisers pay advertising rates based on expected viewership ,they expect to see the team they paid to see. Sports is a business and fatigue is not a valid reason to take the night off. There are many corollaries to this argument. If you bought a ticket to see a Brodway show starring "X" would you be content with the understudy because the star was tired? Big name entertainers (and that's what athletes are) , are paid big salaries to be out there when they are supposed to be. This is a slippery slope and I think Stern was right in coming down hard on it.
Howard L. Pearl December 06, 2012 at 03:29 AM
Zach: I once did attend a Broadway show and the lead was replaced. The show was still excellent. My biggest problem was that when I went home I couldn’t brag to my friends that I saw that star. A major disappointment, but not traumatic! Injuries plague professional sports. Resting veteran players allows minor, nagging injuries to heal and lengthens their careers. Speak to any trainer and they will tell you that extreme fatigue leads to serious injuries. Stars like Tim Duncan earn their salaries every night out there. But 82 games is a long, grueling season and it wears on the players. Your argument that we pay the see the big stars is valid. But there can be a reasonable balance. If three or four times a year, a coach sits out a few of the big guns to insure that the team makes a strong run in the playoffs, isn’t that a positive for the fans? Isn’t that more critical than the one night of disappointment for a few fans?
Zachary David December 06, 2012 at 08:35 PM
I think the problem here was that Popovich went too far. Resting one player would not have created a ruckus. Resting four of them, and not even having them on the bench to be available if need be, is definitely over the top. Major league baseball players routinely sit out some games, but they stay ready and available if need be. , .
Sam Maldonado December 21, 2012 at 02:59 PM
Good morning Howard, it has been some time since I have been able to visit your blog, with my dissertation absorbing most of my non-working time, it becomes difficult to fit in other enjoyable activities in a 24 hour time frame. As usual, you always present some interesting material and your views on such are refreshing. I usually agree with your position on many of your blogs, but in this case I do not. Well, somewhat. I think that both men are right and did do their job properly. Coach Popovich’s job is to present a competitive team that will challenge the opposing team in the quest to win the game. Along with this he has the responsibility to his team, the fans, and the league; to over the term of the session display this same level of competitiveness. Mr. Stern, on the other hand, has the responsibility to keep the “league” honest in its presentation of the game and as an extension benefit all owners, fans, and players, long term. Although coach Popovich did have good long term intentions, for his players and his team owners; he was mistaken in the team he put on the court that evening, at least in the eyes of Mr. Stern and I’m sure, in the eyes of the San Antonio Spurs fans.
Sam Maldonado December 21, 2012 at 02:59 PM
....Cont With respects to the injuries that could surface in the heat of the game, this is part of the game and if a player gets hurt there are other players that could step in and give the team, fans, and league their “all”. With respects to the fine, I think that here Mr. Stern was excessive in the amount of the fine. He could have made his point with a more reasonable amount and a stern statement. Finally, the argument that other coaches felt that Popovich was correct is really not something that carries much weight, after all did you think that they would not back a decision that they could execute sometime in the future? Anyhow, as always I enjoy your input on many issues and promise to view your blog more often going forward. Happy Holidays Sam


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