Cleveland Cavaliers

Should NBA Commissioner David Stern Do Something About Healthy Players Sitting Games Out?

It’s January or February and you’re hunting online for tickets to see your local NBA team play Kobe Bryant’s LA Lakers or LeBron James’ Cleveland Cavaliers. You see that [insert your local team name here] are hosting LeBron and company in mid-April. You pull out the credit card and pay $300 bucks for your family of four to watch LBJ do his thing from a halfway decent seat in the home team’s arena. You tell the wife, little Johnny and little Timmy – hey we’re going to see LeBron play [again insert local team name here] in April!

Over the next 2-3 months, all you hear from little Johnny and Timmy is Daddy, how long before we get to go see LeBron James play? Your countdown goes from 2 months to 2 weeks to 2 days and finally to today is the day kids! You and the family eagerly make your way down to the arena, and the excitement in your kid’s eyes lets you know that the $300 bucks you spent for tickets was well worth it.

The first thing you notice after making your way back to your seat from the concession stand (where you just spent $40 on popcorn, hot dogs and drinks) is that “King James” – along with half the Cavalier’s regular rotation – is not warming up with the rest of the team but instead are in suits hamming it up with courtside big shots, ball boys or media types. Not only that, but the home team’s top players are not in uniform as well.

Your kids begin asking – Daddy, why doesn’t LeBron James have his uniform on? At this point, you turn to ask the guy next to you – What’s up with LeBron not playing? His foam #1 finger and team jersey let you know that unlike yourself he’s a bit more than a casual fan. He then proceeds to tell you that both teams have secured their playoff positions and are resting their key players.

With your kids and yourself bitterly disappointed, you spend the next 2.5 hours watching a bunch of guys you never heard of muddle through a completely meaningless game. As you’re driving home, you can’t decide who you’re most upset with – yourself for not knowing about this ahead of time, the NBA itself for allowing this practice to go on, or the Cavaliers and [once again insert local team here] for not playing their top players.

While this little scenario may be a bit over the top, it could very well mirror some of the stories coming from Philips Arena in my hometown of Atlanta on the last night of the NBA regular season where the Hawks and Cavaliers wrapped up the regular season. A total of three All-Stars including LeBron James failed to suit up despite being healthy enough to play. It was LeBron’s fifth straight game missed due to rest.

The ardent NBA fan may not find objection with the practice of resting stars down the stretch – especially if it keeps one of their own team’s stars from potential injury. But what about the casual fan described earlier who just wants to see the best players on the court regardless? Is this fan being cheated? And if so, should something be done about it?

Well apparently it’s enough of a concern that NBA Commissioner David Stern is addressing the matter during the Board of Governors meetings prior to the playoffs.

“We’re troubled by it, because it would be our preference that healthy players play, but sometimes players play at different levels of being nicked or bruised and we never wanted to get into the business of sending out truckloads of doctors analyzing whether a player was actually nicked or bruised, and we understand the issue. I think it’s a fair item for discussion. I’m not sure that the policing function is something that the league and the owners will want to get deeply involved in, but it’s a point and I’ll be expressing my views to the governors in the executive session,” was Stern’s response to the issue during his annual pre-playoff conference call.

Clearly, Stern wants no part of getting the league office too heavily involved in determining if healthy players should play or not in meaningless season ending games. I, for one, empathize with both the fan who pays top dollar to see NBA stars on the floor when healthy and with the teams who would prefer limiting the risk of injury to their stars heading into the playoffs.

Just imagine Cleveland Cavaliers head coach Mike Brown (whose already come under considerable fire during his tenure) trying to explain why LeBron James shredded an Achilles after the Cavs had already clinched home court throughout the playoffs.

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