NBA Overreaches its Bounds Once Again: A Timberwolves Fan’s Perspective

This past week, the San Antonio Spurs were on the road for four games in five nights.  As this road trip came to an end, the team’s brass decided to send home four of its key components – Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, and Danny Green – a day early for extra rest.  Unfortunately, Pop (Spurs Head Coach, Gregg Popovich) apparently made this decision on the wrong night and drew the ire of NBA Commissioner David Stern.  Also worth noting that the game the Spurs’ starters were missing was a nationally televised game vs. the Miami Heat on TNT.

Upon hearing of the Spurs’ decision to send its players home early, Stern made it clear that there would be substantial ramifications based on this decision.  He and the league didn’t waste any time, as it was announced on Friday that the Spurs were fined $250,000 for “a disservice to the league and our fans”.  With that comment, all hell broke loose.

Before we tackle the hypocrisy of the league’s statement, let’s take two steps back and circle the wagons from a Spurs perspective.  From a 30,000 foot view, do I agree with what they did?  Absolutely not.  Professional athletes are paid hundreds of thousands of dollars and the players the Spurs sent home are millionaires.  All teams typically play three or four nights a week and fly around in luxury jets.  The “funniest” part about this road trip is that the Spurs sent their players home after a Wednesday night game in Orlando, when their next game was less than 250 miles away (i.e. a 30 minute flight) down to Miami.  They really couldn’t make that trip instead of flying the 1,100+ miles back to San Antonio?  Please.

Look, I get it, the Spurs are an aging team and they want to rest their players.  I have absolutely no problem with that decision.  They just took what could have been a non-publicized decision and issue and brought the players to Miami and let them sit on the bench.  However, they brought the spotlight on themselves by sending the players home.  Again, these are professional athletes that make millions of dollars.  It wasn’t like they were flying from one end of the country to another.

Bill Simmons said that the league does a disservice to teams that have to play four games on the road in five nights.  Please.  What is wrong with people in this country and the general laziness that has swept the nation?  “Oh my, I have to fly around the country and play basketball for approximately 10 hours over the next five days.  By the way, I’m flying in a private jet and staying at a 4-5 star hotel.”  Does anything look or sound ridiculous there?  I’d say so.  I get it, trust me, it is a drain to be in the airport and to fly around that much in a week.  However, let’s not make it seem like these guys are “roughing it”.

Now, with all of that said, I still think that the fine itself is an incredible power grab that makes David Stern and the league office look ridiculous.  The “disservice to the league and our fans” quote is simply laughable.  If you are going to fine the Spurs for resting their players at the end of November, the league better start cracking down on teams that truly embarrass themselves for “tanking” at the end of the year to increase their chance of winning the NBA Draft Lottery.

Quick aside: This is my “favorite” part about tanking.  In the NFL and MLB, the team with the worst record gets the first pick in the draft.  Yet, you virtually never see tanking in either league.  This happens in the NBA every season.  Teams tank for a 25% chance (if you are the worst team in the league) or less to get the number one pick.  In other words, you are embarrassing the league, your franchise, and your fan base in order to improve your draft position – or at least a percentage chance to.  This seems like a good way to conduct/run a business?  (I also understand that the NBA is much more driven by one star player than the NFL or MLB will ever be.  That doesn’t make tanking appealing … at all.  Also, if the NHL still existed, I would have added commentary there, but a David Stern disciple has managed to completely destroy that league.)

Let’s get back on point.  I don’t like the idea of the League Office getting involved in fining team’s for decisions they make on what is better for them.  Those franchises should have to deal with any and all ramifications, including dealing with the karma gods.  When teams are tanking at the end of the season, fans shouldn’t show up, taking even more money away from said franchise.  However, if the League Office wants to get involved, it better do so to stop, what I feel is one of the top deterrents in the NBA’s image in tanking.  In last year’s season alone, Bleacher Report was able to list TEN teams that could be seen as tanking!  Do you know how disgusting that is to me?

Our own Timberwolves have had their fair share of behaving in this manner.  Let us not forget about Mark Madsen’s 1-15 from the field night, including 0-7 from 3 point range.  That was the most egregious of them all, but there were plenty more that I won’t go into, largely because it is so frustrating and disappointing to see professional franchises succumb to such a backwards thinking.

If David Stern wants to protect against any further “disservice to the league” and its fans, he better be willing to keep a watchful eye on this in March and April, not November.  Again, I don’t think he or the League Office should be doing this, but Stern and company managed to open up this can of worms and now they will have to deal with it.  I fully expect to see this case in some type of court of appeals and to be an unnecessary distraction in what has been a largely entertaining first month of the NBA season.  Well done to everyone all around, you’ve managed to take the headlines off of an improving product to something that has nothing to do with the art of basketball.  In fact, I’ve even taken the bait by throwing together over a thousand words on the topic.  I’m going to go rinse my hands of this filth …

What side of the fence do you stand on?  Were the Spurs right?  Was the League / David Stern right?  I say neither and we all lost because of it.