Zeljko Obradovic isn’t one to beat around the bush with his Fenerbahce players.
The NBA world thought they were about to watch two heavy hitting franchises go at each other in prime time. The San Antonio Spurs were visiting the defending champion Miami Heat in what could arguably be a small taste of what’s to come in June.
Enter Greg Popovich, the savvy Spurs head coach most recently famous for his personnel management antics and salty personality during interviews.
After six road games in eight days Popovich thought it best to rest his veteran starters with a home stand against Western Conference rival Memphis on deck.
Tony Parker, Tim Duncan, Danny Green and Manu Ginobili were thus given the night off to go with the already injured Kawhi Leonard and Stephen Jackson. As unpopular as the move may be, the bottom line is coach Popovich reserved the right to do whatever he thought was in the best interest of his team. In essence, he was simply doing his job.
Given Popovich is entering his sixteenth season as a head coach and has only missed the Playoffs once (his first season in the job) who are we to question his qualifications to make such a call?
According to NBA Commissioner David Stern those sixteen seasons and four Championships count for naught, as resting players in a marquee fixture is unacceptable.
The commissioner didn’t pull any punches when asked for his thoughts and was quick to slam the move before apologising to the fans on behalf of the league and promising that “substantial sanctions” would be handed out to coach Popovich and the Spurs for the move.
This is all well and good except for one minor detail; there’s no league rule stipulating that coach Popovich and the Spurs did anything wrong.
The issue here isn’t whether or not resting players is right or wrong. It’s what precedent will any punishment set for a league which has its stars consistently rested for numerous reasons, both right and wrong, whether it’s blatant tanking for draft picks (Golden State last season) or adhering to set rest spots with an eye on the bigger picture (the Spurs yesterday).
After Stern’s latest outburst the primary goal of every team in the NBA becomes somewhat clouded. Is their main objective to win a TV audience or a Championship? A marquee TV matchup should never force a team to jeopardize their end goal and true fans of the NBA will understand this.
As fans we contemplate such situations for our team daily, and we trust that the people put in charge to make these decisions have the best interest of our team at heart. The San Antonio Spurs were coming off their ninth road game in twelve outings and are owners of the ninth oldest roster in the league. To the NBA fan resting key players in this situation doesn’t come as a shock, they understand.
Stern’s cry of foul play undermines that fan’s knowledge and love for the game, and makes it overwhelmingly obvious that the NBA’s preference is with money and a short term audience, not basketball and the long term well-being of the franchises who represent it.
Stern identified the potential loss of revenue that comes with a nationally televised game absent of its biggest draw card, superstar players. Monetary issues took precedent over the traditional rules that have guided the sport to its position as a global phenomenon, one which the Spurs have and continue to contribute to.
So why should the Spurs suffer consequence?
The goal of coach Popovich and the Spurs organisation is to first and foremost win a Championship, not sell a product. Thus isn’t severely limiting their chances of victory in a single game punishment enough? After all, the Spurs are likely to be locked in a heated battle for a high playoff seed where each loss has significant ramifications towards accomplishing their goal.
Stern’s line of thinking not only has financial concerns at heart, it also further underlines the leagues stance for holding its superstars on a separate pedestal. As fans we watch the league because we love the game. The essence of our fandom will still exist regardless of on court personnel. We love having them (superstars) around but when you boil it down to its bare bones the stars of the game are simply a cherry on top.
Whilst the NBA is responsible for supplying a quality product to consumers, that product cannot be entirely dictated by a financial bottom line. Basketball decisions and financial decisions impact the game differently and on this occasion David Stern has stepped into an arena where his expertise weren’t required.
Greg Popovich made a basketball decision, not a financial one, and that should be applauded. Stripping the Spurs and every other team in the NBA of that decision making power simply brings into question the integrity of the game and this is unacceptable.
David Stern has every right to voice any concerns when it comes to the best possible product being on show. Doing so in a public arena and promising consequences despite no official league rule being broken is the worst possible way to go about it. Alternatively Stern could have opted to learn from the ordeal and looked to schedule future marquee games when it favored both teams equally.
Instead of responding proactively, Stern chose to lash out and question the basketball motives of a hall of fame basketball mind. One who knows the path to an NBA Championship and did only what he thought was in the best interest of his team under the circumstances you provided.
The NBA – Where Amazing Happens as long as it’s financially beneficial.