Soon after Gregg Popovich announced he’d be resting his team’s stars for tonight’s game against Miami and sending them home on an airplane to prepare for San Antonio’s next contest, David Stern said the Spurs would be facing “substantial sanctions” for these actions. Tony Parker, Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Danny Green were all sent home early and given a day to rest for a primetime game against Miami which was televised nationally on TNT. And since Kawhi Leonard and Stephen Jackson are both currently injured, that meant San Antonio was playing without its best six players. Stern apologized to NBA fans, saying this decision was “unacceptable.” In his statement, it seemed that Stern was apologizing for a lack of competitive spirit in what should have been a matchup between two of the league’s best teams.
Let’s be clear, though. David Stern doesn’t give a damn about how competitive a game is between two contenders in November. What he does give a damn about, though, is how competitive a game is between two contenders on national television. Had this game not been televised, these kind of sanctions might not be happening. However, considering how often Popovich rests his starters and the fact that this would have been a great primetime matchup (and possible NBA Finals preview), it’s no wonder Stern is taking action.
Whether or not you agree with Popovich’s right to rest his starters or David Stern’s financial motivations is irrelevant. The fact is, Stern is probably in the right here. No matter what his motivation is, there are plenty of reasons why Pop can’t be pulling this kind of stuff in November. It doesn’t matter that the Spurs’ second string made it a game; what matters is TNT probably didn’t pull in the ratings it would have if Duncan, Ginobili and Parker had been on the floor. And since this game lost a lot of its luster with the news that the Spurs’ starters wouldn’t be taking the floor, a lot of people missed out on a good game. And in a league centered on competition and primetime matchups, sitting stars is frowned upon, but sending them home before the game to prepare for the next one? That’s just unacceptable.
Can you imagine a league where stars are consistently given the night off and aren’t even in the arena when their teammates are playing? That’s a league nobody would take seriously. These guys are paid millions of dollars a year to play a game. People pay a lot of money to see their favorite players live. If they’re old and aching, that’s fine. But there’s no excuse for these guys to be treated like prima donnas and not even show up to the game. And that’s the kind of precedent that would be established if Pop were allowed to continue to rest his starters like this.
Popovich is a tremendous coach and clearly knows how to manage his players in preparation for the postseason; his coaching San Antonio’s reserves to a near victory over the defending champions on the road is proof of that. But every team has older guys on their roster. You can complain all you want about Stern’s hypocrisy in allowing teams to tank for draft picks but coming down hard on this kind of stuff, but the fact is, there’s a reason the NBA’s profits have increased exponentially during his tenure as commissioner. The man knows how to turn a profit and whether you’re a businessman or not, resting starters as consistently as Pop does is not good for the NBA from a financial perspective. And no matter what Stern’s motivation is, as basketball fans, shouldn’t we be siding with him anyway? Yeah it’s hard to argue with Pop’s coaching decisions considering his immense success in the league, but how can we call ourselves true fans of the sport if we don’t support actions to enforce better competition? You can’t tell me Spurs fans were excited to hear their favorite players wouldn’t be suiting up (or even in the arena) for a nationally televised game against another title contender, regardless of whether or not the game turned out to be a good one. Because even if fans do see the benefit of resting the older guys, that kind of constant disappointment for Spurs fans (and anyone who enjoys watching good basketball games) needs to be put to an end. It’s only one game and Stern may be motivated by financial reasons, but we should be united with him in a demand for the spirit of competition to shine through.