So David Stern didn't like San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich resting four of his starters -- three of them superstars in Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobili — against the superstar-laden Miami Heat on Thursday. Get in line.
The Spurs players, superstars included, probably didn't like it. Players want to play, always. Ask Chicago Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau, who routinely plays his men past the point of exhaustion, and once fielded center Omer Asik even as the former Bulls was suffering through a broken fibula.
A great many Spurs fans, anxious as the team attempts to make the NBA Finals this June for what will be the first time in six years, wanted their stars to suit up. Once again San Antonio looks like contenders, and a road pairing against the defending champs can go a long way toward wondering if your team is going to mean much in June.
In June. In JUNE. There are 25 shopping days left until Christmas, and yet Tim Duncan is expected to be daisy fresh for what could be a deciding Game 7 some 200-plus days from now.
If David Stern, who has threatened "substantial sanctions" against the Spurs for sitting their starters on Thursday, wants this sort of thing to go away? Then make 20 games off of the NBA's schedule go away. Make inter-conference battles go away. Make a potential 27-game postseason run to lead up to Game 7 of the Finals go away. Make international play during the exhibition season go away.
Make all the things that make David Stern and his owners untold millions go away. Once you've locked the players out and cost the thousandaire-set that makes your league hum night in and night out millions of unreported dollars between the lockout stages of July to December of 2011, of course.
I understand acting overly haughty over minor indiscretions, I've made a career and monthly payments on a gleaming 2008 Toyota Corolla out of it, so Stern's heavy-handed response to Popovich's move rings true. After a few weeks of sitting on the sidelines and hand-stitching the bunting to be draped as he sets to his victory tour, Stern needlessly moved in to protect the honor of Absolutely No One in response to a game that would be forgotten in a matter of days even if Tim Duncan tipped in a game-winner off of a Tony Parker miss.
The NBA diehards were on board. The typically smart Spurs fans that are used to cheering their team through June understood. The Heat fans that either bought tickets (ha!) or planned to tune in were grateful for the easy win. Vegas adjusted the line, fantasy basketball players rued the lack of Ginobili steals, and Charles Barkley had to gargle with honey and lemon in order to work his way into effortlessly saying "Tiago" on air. Big deal. Nobody was upset.
Save for David Stern. The man that expects human beings to work this way from the last week of October all the way to the third week in June. Oh, you get two days off over the All-Star break, unless (we're looking at you, Mr. Parker) you're picked to dribble between some obstacles for basic cable TV eyes on All-Star Saturday night.
The reaction to the problem is typical. Fines and more fines, set to subsidize the league's "NBA Cares" program that also asks players on their day off (especially for that All-Star break photo-op on the Friday before the weekend sets in) to be seen in front of cameras performing acts of charity for those in need. A noble cause, of course. And I wonder if any of that cash was ever considered to be earmarked for the thousands of workers that had their incomes completely turned on ear this time last year by a lockout that shifted absolutely no NBA needles.
That pointless exercise resulted in a 66-game mess of a season that was a far bigger affront to NBA fans than Thursday night's one-sided affair in Miami in November. A massive slate of games set to recoup some of the losses Stern's owners heaped on themselves because of years of reckless spending and a refusal to utilize the helpers the league and its players collectively bargained to keep salaries sensible (Me: "Restricted free agency." NBA owner: "That's a thing?"), followed by an endless postseason and NBA-styled Olympic run. Then October. Then the slog until June.
And we want Gregg Popovich, as he watches Tim Duncan fold himself into yet another airplane seat some 186 months into their relationship, to think about basic cable TV viewers in November instead of his team's fortunes in June.
(Meanwhile, a resting baseball player awaiting his turn at bat after an hour in the dugout, adjusts parts of himself, spits out some sunflower seeds, and points out that his team plays twice as many games.)
Gregg Popovich committed no basketball crime on Thursday. In actuality, he made life a little easier and our enjoyment much more certain once the playoff decals go down next spring. As per usual, he used his head and heart and willingly hamstrung the team he loves in order to construct a bigger, smarter picture.
David Stern used to do big things. Now, he can only rant and wrestle over minor misdeeds. And that's the real crime.
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