The idea of NBA players resting a day or two during the season isn’t a new one. It is, however, one that needs to stop. Even NBA Commissioner Adam Silver knows it’s a big problem. Most recently, LeBron James, Kevin Love, and Kyrie Irving all sat out Saturday night’s marquee matchup with the Los Angeles Clippers. Thousands of fans were in attendance to see the top team in the East, led by the best player in the world. Not to mention, a nationally televised audience watching two title contenders.
Instead of getting the premier battle everyone was hoping (and paying) for, they got a 30-point Clippers win. Now, normally this wouldn’t be an issue. It’s an 82-game season with only a select amount of off-days, plus constant travel. And for Kevin Love, who is recovering from a knee injury, a night off makes sense. The problem is, this was the wrong night to sit the three best players on the best team in the NBA. Not to mention, it’s kind of a lame excuse.
First off, it’s a road game, after a night off and a trip from Utah. Not exactly a red-eye from New York on consecutive days. Secondly, you’re playing the Clippers; a possible opponent in the NBA Finals. On Sunday they were facing the Lakers, the last place team in the West; you could have easily sat out that game with no arguments from anyone. Thirdly, the game was on national TV with a large crowd on hand. Money that went to waste for anyone hoping to see LBJ, ya know, do his job. Not sitting on the bench with a cup of coffee.
I think my bigger issue is that these guys get days off and then get upset when we get upset. I understand that being a pro athlete is strenuous. But, I also understand that you’re getting paid millions of dollars a year to play a game. It almost makes being teacher working in the inner-city for less that $30,000 a year, or a soldier in Afghanistan separated from family seem like a piece of cake. And don’t give me the excuse of guys being so much more in-tune with their bodies with nutrition. With today’s science and technology, that should make it easier for them to actually perform and play every single game.
As a sports junkie and a 90’s kid, I can remember being so excited to see Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls play. I can’t imagine how disappointed I would have been if I showed up and MJ decided to take a night off. Whether it was his decision or not, it would have ruined my night, and maybe my opinion of “His Airness”.
You see, most of these athletes, whether in the NBA or elsewhere, are idols to kids. While that may seem like a guilt trip, it’s the truth. It was Joe DiMaggio who said “there is always some kid who may be seeing me for the first time. I owe him my best.” The least today’s athletes could do is give today’s kids a C+ (we are a society based on participation, right?).
One of my favorite athletes ever, as a child of the 90’s, was Cal Ripken. The beloved Orioles infielder did his job every day, without question, for over 16 years. He was a representative of blue-collar workers and relished the chance to play a game over doing something else. He was a man, “The Ironman”. So, the question becomes:
What Do We Do?
Why not limit the amount of time they play? LeBron is averaging 37.6 minutes per game, two more than last year. If you include all the time he’s spent in the playoffs, his 14-year NBA career is really 17 seasons long. I know you’re tired, so why not lower how much you play, not how often? Even the Clippers stars sat out the entire fourth quarter in Saturday’s win.
But, sometimes, this isn’t the player’s decision. In a world that demands success every year, coaches get pressure to win titles consistently. Whether it’s a figment of their imaginations or actual pressure from owners who don’t want to lose ticket sales with bad teams, it’s there. When Commission Silver talks about “significant penalties”, does he mean fines? Loss of draft picks? And is that really the right response?
As a fan, you want to see the best players. Either on your team or against them. You want the competition to be good. You want to feel like you hot your money’s worth. Should team’s offer refunds or ticket exchange if these things happen? Maybe concession or merchandise discounts? Who knows. All I know is, the fans run sports and sitting the stars of those sports is disrespectful to them.
While there isn’t a right answer (yet) on how to fix this epidemic of NBA players being “sat down” when on the road; there is a simple answer. Man up. Do Your Job.