By Tony Tsoukalas / Sports Writer
The Meridian Star
Please don’t let NBA Commissioner David Stern read this column — he might fine me.
Friday, Stern followed up his promise to punish the San Antonio Spurs by fining the franchise $250,000 for deciding to sit four of its best players during the team’s Thursday night game against Miami. Not only did Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich elect to rest Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginoboli and Danny Green, he sent all four players back home to San Antonio for the game in Miami.
Stern’s main grievance, according to a statement released Friday, was the San Antonio’s decision to sit its players in the team’s only trip to Miami, therefore robbing paying NBA fans in the Miami area a chance to see the best players on the Spurs’ roster.
The decision by the Spurs was a clear violation of… wait, what’s that, nothing. There is no rule in the NBA preventing Popovich or any other NBA head coach from sitting his players. In fact Popovich has done this in the past, including twice last year during the lockout-shortened season last year.
In both cases the head coach was simply doing what was best for his team and its players. Thursday night was the Spurs’ sixth road game in eight days. Even with Thursday’s 105-100 loss, the Spurs finished the road trip 5-6 and just a half game behind Memphis for the NBA’s best record. After all, Popovich has only guided the Spurs to four NBA championships in the past; he has a pretty good idea of what it takes to win in this league.
So what motivated Stern to come down so hard on the Spurs?
Make no mistake, what truly upset Stern was the loss of marketability of Thursday’s game. The matchup paired two of the league’s best teams and was televised nationally by TNT. Other than the Saints-Falcons game on the NFL Network, it was the most exciting sporting event televised Thursday night.
Instead of watching a classic matchup between two teams, NBA fans were forced to watch a glorified scrimmage between Heat stars and Spurs scrubs.
Or were they?
The biggest myth in this whole saga is that NBA fans in Miami were deprived of watching a great game. Sure, they missed out on seeing Duncan and Parker, but the vast majority of fans who packed the arena Thursday night, did so to see a different set of stars — LeBron James, Dwayne Wade, Chris Bosh and Ray Allen. As for the game, it was actually pretty entertaining. San Antonio led Miami as late as 22.6 seconds left in the fourth quarter, when Allen hit a 3-pointer to give the Heat a 100-98 lead and ultimately squeak by with a win.
Miami fans were treated to a close matchup, with worthy competition for four quarters. On the national scene, basketball fans were given an underdog to cheer for, as many pulled for the overmatched Spurs to pull off the upset. What more could any fan ask for?
Stern’s $250,000 fine is a clear mismanagement in power. While the purpose of the punishment, to ensure paying NBA customers receive what they paid for, is a worthy cause, the timing couldn’t have been worse.
Would he have levied the same fine if the game wasn’t televised, how bout if the Spurs were playing New Orleans? The answer to both questions is, most likely not. After all, he failed to do so in the past during the numerous times when other teams chose to rest players.
Friday’s fine opens a can of worms for the commissioner, as now he will be forced to fine NBA teams every time they rest players, or else run the risk of becoming hypocritical.
Resting players is a practice that occurs in the NBA. With teams forced to play 82 games in a five-month period, coaches will continue to rest players in order to save them for later in the season.
If Stern doesn’t like the practice, he should alter the schedule to look out for the best interest of his teams instead of punishing them for doing the same.