NBA players are pampered. They earn millions of dollars to play a sport, but they also get free transportation to road games, free five-star accommodations on the road, and even meal money. They get summers off, a halftime to rest, free Gatorade at time outs, and all the free bubblegum they can chew. It’s a pretty sweet gig.
It’s also a pretty tough gig, especially for the sort of star that is expected to prop up exhibition game attendance in October, cable TV ratings at the All-Star break in February, and play deep into June. And then, possibly, represent your country during the NBA-governed (if we’re honest here) Olympic and international tournaments.
That’s a wearying eight and a half months of work if you’re someone like LeBron James, who understandably has shown signs of fatigue late in his most recent playoff runs, after helping his former Miami Heat franchise to four consecutive NBA Finals, with a spot of Olympic play thrown in the middle. James is also asked to be at his gravity-defying best during the All-Star break, he’s routinely criticized for not participating in the Slam Dunk Contest, and you can be damn sure he’ll have to show up at the league-mandated media and charity events during that “break.”
The “break,” currently, starts early Friday morning when TNT’s double-header ends, and starts back up with either a practice on the upcoming Monday or shootaround on Tuesday. Though not all players have to make it out to All-Star weekend, and most can afford that first class jet to a sunny location the second the whistle blows on Wednesday or Thursday night, it’s not really much of a “break” at all.
The NBA, to help its product and by extension its fans, should pamper these players even more. Luckily for us fans, the league is considering it. From the Miami Sun-Sentinel’s Ira Winderman:
The move, which would give players seven days off between games in mid-February, would result in an increase of one or two back-to-back sets per team for the coming season, a party familiar with the process said.
"That's the model they're using right now while they're filling in the schedule," an NBA source familiar with the process told the Sun Sentinel Friday. "Could they go back and use some of those dates if needed? That's possible. But the week off looks like what's going to happen."
The release of the 2014-15 NBA schedule has been pushed back into August to allow the league's television partners to adjust for the dramatic shakeup created by free agency, including the shift of LeBron James from the Miami Heat to Cleveland Cavaliers.
With the elongated All-Star break, the possibility of then starting the 2015-16 season a week earlier also has been deliberated recently, although that dynamic has yet to gain traction, according to an NBA source familiar with the situation, with such a move potentially requiring an adjustment in the collective-bargaining agreement.
This is a good thing that we’ve discussed before in these pages. It’s good for the players, which means it will be good for the fans, and an extended season will also be good for the NBA.
If the NBA started its season earlier and allowed for a proper All-Star break, this would help encourage the sort of 12-month news cycle that the NFL has created. The NBA will never be as popular as pro football, light beer and fast food cheeseburgers will always be America’s favorite food and drink, but it can expand its popularity by starting the season earlier and creating more summertime intrigue by moving the draft and free agency period later into the summer.
As it stands now in late July, the league isn’t creating much news to work with, and even with the inaugural Basketball World Cup set for next month that dead cycle doesn’t figure to get any better in August or September. We’re two full months away from training camps and eventually exhibition games, but if the league gave the players a solid break and started the season in mid-October, it would be doing right by its players and fans and also its promotional arm.
Or, it could still cram in a tiny All-Star “break” and possibly send its players overseas to sell product raise money for charity:
The NBA has been tossing around the idea of having a charity All-Star Game in South Africa next summer, sources tell Yahoo Sports.— Marc J. Spears (@SpearsNBAYahoo) July 29, 2014
None of these proposed changes will take place next season, so there is the possibility that a player like James will have to prepare for that eight and a half month grind all over again for the fifth and possibly sixth consecutive year – something not even Magic, Michael or Larry had to work through. No amount of five-star accommodations and envelopes filled with lunch money can make up for that workload. It’s time for the NBA to do something about it.
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