Karl Malone to sitting NBA superstars: 'Get your ass out there. It's not work. It's called 'playing'

Ball Don't Lie
Karl Malone and Tom Brokaw talk up the Greatest Generation, which included Adam Keefe. (Getty Images)
Karl Malone and Tom Brokaw talk up the Greatest Generation, which included Adam Keefe. (Getty Images)

So, the NBA had another round of expected and at this point embarrassing drama on Saturday night. The ABC-broadcast “Saturday Showcase” was scuttled in the ratings not just by Caleb Swanigan’s work in the low post or Middle Tennessee’s move to make a game out of its contest against Butler, but by the decision from Cleveland Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue to rest LeBron James while sitting out stars Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love due to legitimate, if previously conquered, injuries.

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The ABC crew tore into the Cavs during the team’s expected blowout loss to the previously-stinkin’ Los Angeles Clippers, but few other deigned to complain. There is legitimate anger at this routine, but the over the top furor regarding the NBA’s uproar over missed games is mostly limited to those that either don’t have to watch the league – fair-weather fans, cable TV guys that talk mostly about the Cowboys – or those too bored to thrash on about some superteams’ insistence on sticking it to the league that presents them with an 82-game season every fall.

Ol’ Schoolteachers-and-Firefighters himself, Karl Malone, falls somewhere in between the two camps listed above. The Basketball Hall of Famer and Utah Jazz legend didn’t miss a game due to injury between 1985 and 2003 (only suspension – Karl elbowed some dudes), and he’s not missing a chance to rail against the kids who probably can’t be trusted to even handle the damned Dremel:

John Karalis at Red’s Army beat us to some of the more obvious punches:

What bothers me most about this is that it’s supposed to be some kind of “checkmate” move in the argument because now the only way to refute it is to compare the rigors of being a cop or a firefighter to playing basketball. These are two completely different worlds that in no way should be compared. I’m certainly not going to make any arguments that can be misconstrued as the denigration of the men and women who put their lives on the line daily to make sure we’re safe.

So what Malone did here was basically use first responders as human shields in an argument that should never have gone there in the first place.

Stop comparing sports players to other people with real jobs. It’s stupid, and as Karalis reminds us the whole act does nothing but disparage those who the speaker is propping him or herself with in that instance. As if schoolteachers and first responders are above or unable to seek out a chance to collectively bargain a way to ensure that they are at their best when educating our children or responding to our pleas for professional help in case of emergency.

The modern NBA, with the millions that follow it on a day-long basis in several different international time zones, doesn’t allow for a chance to rest on the job. A night off against Loren Meyer in 1996 or Derek Strong any other year is not the same as a night off against a similarly-ranked scrub in 2017 – ask James Harden or any other star whether it’s OK to take plays off defensively in full view of the internet in ways that Magic, Bird, and (shock horror!) Michael Jordan and Karl Malone did during their masterful careers.

NBA teams rest players because they want their stars to be at their peak in June. LeBron James plays from October until June every season, with the only ripple in that run coming in the compressed and for some teams devastating 2011-12 schedule, in the wake of the league’s move to lock out its players, which pitted 66 games into a spot where 52 games used to go. If LeBron James falls before June, or if he fades in June, he’ll be raked over the coals.

The nonsense has driven LeBron James into becoming a sympathetic figure. Roll over Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, tell Goliath the news:

Nobody has ever been on a run like this.

Bill Russell played in the Finals in every year but one in his 13-year career, but LeBron James passed him in career playoff minutes during the 2015 postseason – and James is signed through 2019. Russell had to coach during his last two postseasons, and he had to bang with the best bigs of the time, but he also doesn’t have to orchestrate things offensively the way James has to: Russell had John Havlicek (a forebear to James if there ever was one) during the center’s last few postseasons for that. Russell never played more than 19 postseason games in one run. LeBron topped that during his second season, and in six postseasons since then.

Nearly as there is no way to compare schoolteachers and small forwards, there is little way to compare what Russell went through with what LeBron James is working his way through, and there is no point in wasting your time trying to accommodate all the social and personal roadblocks an African-American professional athlete had to mind almost in relative silence during the 1950s and 1960s. These concerns also clearly pale when placed alongside the comparisons between commercial flights and what we’re guessing is the taxpayer-funded spaceship that LeBron James currently jets from game to game in.

Legs are legs, though. And even if the NCAA Tournament were canceled due to rain, Saturday’s dumb Cavaliers/Clippers tilt would still rank as a needless, March 18 game (game No. 68 for Cleveland) in comparison to whatever it is that we’re going to take in this May and June. Saturday night did not matter, and to a certain extent March 12’s similarly-scuttled contest between the Warriors and Spurs didn’t matter.

All we asked is that these games would entertain. And yet, there America was. Flipping over to a Butler contest even though nobody on hand could name a single Wildcat Thundercat Thunderdog Beardog Zephyr Bulldog. The Cavs/Clippers game did not entertain.

Cavs general manager David Griffin could be bothered, but only slightly. Via a shared feature from ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne and Dave McMenamin:

“Because if they play tomorrow, they get two days off in a row now, and then they get two days off before Denver [on Wednesday],” Griffin told ESPN. “So from a rehab standpoint, he wouldn’t have gotten the same amount of rest between games. We were never going to play Kevin this game, so he could get two days off. And Kyrie is off after leaving the last game hurt.”

Griffin said the Cavs’ situation was different than that of the Warriors, who rested healthy players against the Spurs.

“It was nothing like the last time that happened,” he told ESPN, referring to last weekend. “Those were three healthy dudes that rested. That’s not what happened tonight. Yeah, it sucks from a timing perspective. I feel bad for the league. I really do. I feel bad for the league, but it is what it is for us, from an injury standpoint. As you know, we haven’t had a team together for more than a week at a time all year.”

True, but, Ramona Shelburne is accurately seeing through parts of this:

We’ve got, like, a month left of this. The NBA will have a longer season in 2017-18 in order to accommodate attempts at rest, and to attempt to nearly eliminate back-to-back scheduling. Because the Spurs, Warriors and Cavaliers seem to have eliminated back-to-back performances.

The NBA could screw things up, terribly, not so much because the league’s front office is housed with incompetent boobs, but because the entire scheduling operation is ridiculously complicated. There are 10 NHL teams that this league shares arenas with, and even with the advent of an extended schedule reportedly lined up for 2017-18, it will still be terribly hard to develop blemish-free calendars with so much getting in the way. Two extra weeks of calendar space will not act as an immediate panacea.

But it will help. The 82-game season isn’t going anywhere, and the league needs to continue to tinker with ways to make sure their best players are working at their best in mid-June, not mid-March. Cavs coach Tyronn Lue should be chided for his move to play LeBron James a league-leading amount of minutes per game, alternated with spots (six times this year) of game-long “rest,” but as David Griffin reminded the Cavs are charged with winning games first, and creating good television for ABC second.

And we should be reminded that, in making for terrible March television, Griffin and the Cavaliers are helping to prepare for some fantastic television on ABC this spring and summer. The entire enterprise is a joke, but the joke may only last for another month.

It’s also worth it to remember that Malone is not exactly without his missteps.

After an MVP year in 1996-97, an honor he deserved even with Michael Jordan in the league at the time, Malone famously fell slightly flat in the postseason and Finals that year. Playoff stats typically dip down a chunk in comparison to regular season efforts due to the enhanced competition, but Malone’s killer averages of 23.5 points, 10.7 boards, 3.6 assists and two combined blocks/steals during the 1997 Finals were still off of his MVP-marks, while working against an out of shape converted center in Bison Dele (the former Brian Williams), and an otherwise-spent Dennis Rodman, playing through an MCL sprain.

For whatever reason, Malone wasn’t the same in mid-June as he was back in mid-March. Giving Karl a midseason break could have been the spring the Jazz needed, with both Rodman and Scottie Pippen fighting through injuries that would have cost them weeks in the regular season, to move past Chicago in the Finals.

“Could have.”

The Jazz won the West by seven games that year, and there was no way in hell coach Jerry Sloan was going to sit Malone down the stretch of the season. Even in games against also-rans from Sacramento, Golden State and Minnesota, Malone still averaged 26.7 minutes a game and played damn well (21.3 points, 65 percent shooting) in his team’s final three games. He only mostly sat out one other contest I can find from memory, at the end of the 2000-01 season (he played 41 minutes the night before). And, double hell, the Jazz lost in the first round just a week later.

The idea of doing one’s job, showing up to work regardless of mitigating factors and/or concerns, is a noble one. Karl Malone is the guy that also asked for contract re-negotiation in 1998, while players were locked out, over three years after NBA and its players collectively bargained contract re-negotiations out of the league’s CBA. If Karl couldn’t get Karl’s new contract, Malone posited, then he had played his last game with the Jazz (he would go on to play 408 more).

He even snuck some weird Kung Fu reference into things:

“The pebble has been snatched from my hand, and it’s time for me to leave, like Kung Fu. I must move on. . . . continue to live in Utah, unless I get hit by a beer truck or something.”

Malone, due to make less than Greg Ostertag in what turned out to be an MVP-level season (a season that was nearly shelved due to the lockout), could not be bothered with what he considered to be CBA semantics. He wanted a new contract and to be the highest-paid player on his team, immediately. Even at a time when no other NBA player, let alone Greg Ostertag, was receiving paychecks.

There’s your sense of perspective, from a 35-year old at the time. Karl Malone, and God bless the man for this, probably hasn’t opened a whole lot of tabs on the subject in the decades since.

It was David Halberstam that first introduced the “toy department” kiss off to the world of sports and sports reporting, such as it was, back in 1979.

In a book that also hasn’t aged wonderfully (some of its more paternal instincts speak right to the willing heart of a cadre of modern-day sports scribes that swear by its tone), Halberstam also went on to point out that a “revolution” of sorts was needed in order to bring the sports culture at large “out of the toy department isolation that American myth had created for it into inevitable contact with the furor and volatility of the larger society.”

Resting NBA players during basketball players in March, for games in June, has absolutely nothing to do with any of this. Karl Malone, Jeff Van Gundy, Mark Jackson, Michael Wilbon and Sage Steele all need to walk around the block for  a second in order to settle down. Order your own food! Make your own hotel arrangements. Order League Pass, and watch a Utah Jazz game. Chill out.

LeBron James has never claimed that his profession is any more important than that of a first responder’s, a schoolteacher’s, Greg Ostertag’s, or that of two millionaire ex-coaches that get paid to fly from city to city and wax sports talk-radio style in games they should be providing analysis for. He just doesn’t want to suck, to use David Griffin’s words, in June. This helps.

It’s a storyline that, if the NBA gets it right, only has a month or so left. Back to backs won’t be fully eliminated in 2017-18, but teams staring down 100 games in a season won’t be as quick in coming years to rest players for either “Showcase” or substandard contests.

Get the whining in now, everyone.

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Kelly Dwyer is an editor for Ball Don’t Lie on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at KDonhoops@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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