I know. It's the eve of an SEC championship that my team is playing in and I'm writing about the NBA. That should tell you how strongly I feel about this.
Before we start, let's do some full disclosure, I couldn't care less about the NBA, not until the playoffs, at least. It's hard for me to get into the regular season of a sport where over half the teams make the playoffs.
Nevertheless, I did see the story last night on Sportscenter about San Antonio Spurs' head coach Gregg Popovich deciding to get four of his starters some extra rest by sending them home early instead of making them play in a nationally televised game against the Miami Heat. I also saw the story on ESPN.com this morning about NBA commissioner David Stern promising punishment for Popovich's actions, and tonight I saw what the punishment is going to be: a $250,000 fine.
You can read about the details of the situation and Popovich's decision by clicking the link above. All I'm going to talk about from here on out is the ridiculousness of Stern's decision.
First of all, Popovich has every right to handle his team however he sees fit. He has an old team. They're a very good team, but they're old. Understandably, he believes they need extra rest and at various times throughout the season will create that rest where the team's schedule hasn't. He pulled the same tactic multiple times last year. And you know what? The tactic seems to work. The Spurs were the top team in the Western Conference last year and advanced to the Western Conference finals where they lost to a very good and much younger Oklahoma City Thunder squad. In fact, the Spurs are regarded as one of the model franchises in the NBA, and Popovich as one of its top coaches. They may not be the flashiest team, but they know how to win.
I understand the argument Stern is trying to make. The NBA is an entertainment service and can't provide the best entertainment it's capable of if the best players on one of its premiere teams don't play. Also, the game was nationally televised on TNT, one of the NBA's major networks, and against another high profile team. Furthermore, people had payed a lot of money to see the Spurs at their best play Miami at its best. I would throw in some arguments about how the Spurs not putting their best product on the court can directly and indirectly affect the futures of several other teams, but if you really think David Stern's decision is based upon anything other than money then you need to check out the oceanfront property George Strait and I are trying to sell in Arizona.
Yes, the NBA is an entertainment service, but that's not Popovich's concern. His concern is winning NBA championships. His job security isn't predicated upon the league's TV ratings, income, fan happiness, or anything else like that*. His job security is predicated upon how many championships he contends for. He believes his methods are the best methods for setting his team up to compete for a championship, and as the Spurs have proven in years past, those methods usually work very well.
*Sure, you could argue that is job security is indirectly tied to those things, but let's not split hairs.
Sitting four starters for one game, even a high profile game, isn't going to kill the league. It might upset some fans, but not badly enough to where a significant number of those fans would cease being active NBA fans. TNT isn't going lose major ratings, at least not in the long term, because the Spurs' best squad didn't play. The Spurs' season hasn't been damaged, and the Heat haven't been unfairly helped, either. The season lasts for 82 games, and anyway, both teams are making the playoffs. More than half the teams do, remember?
The biggest reason Stern's decision upsets me, though, is because of the double standard he's applying. He's punishing Popovich for trying to rest his players (thereby ensuring the Spurs, and by extension the league, will be more intriguing/entertaining down the stretch), while he does nothing to prevent bad teams from publicly and unashamedly tanking at the end of the season to increase their chances of getting a high lottery pick. Do the fans of those teams not matter? Is it because those teams don't play on national TV much? You can't have it both ways, Stern. Not if you want to seem objective.