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A Piece of Shit and A Fan Take A Walk on A Slippery Slope

By Jeff Koch on November 30, 2012.

“In David Stern’s mind, the answer is to substitute the absolute authority of one man for that of another.”

And like that, the hammer of the league came down upon the Spurs from on high.

In this day and age, every story is dissected a million times before it even touches the ground. There are a lot of smart, funny, and reasoned (and not so reasoned) takes out there. I won’t bother trying to link to all of them. (But check out our facebook page for links to many of the best of them). So much of what I say is probably an echo of sentiments found many other places. Still, as a Spurs fan writing for a Spurs site, it’s hard not to respond.

I keep coming back to the line I quoted at the top, from a great article on hoopspeak (click the quote to read it). In all of team sports, the understood contract is that a coach gets to coach and manage his team as he sees fit. Somewhat absolutely. (Throw in the front office and management if you will, but the point remains the same: the team should have absolute authority over itself.) From a sports and competitive perspective, this makes sense to us. Teams are autonomous, and competing against one another.

But from a business perspective (and make no sense, Stern and the NBA are in the business business as much as–if not more so–than the basketball business), each team is a member of whole, and by extension, does not have absolute authority and autonomy.

Apparently, David Stern does.

And here is where the slope gets extra slippery. Fine, the Spurs snubbed their noses at the league a bit. But with Stern’s ruling, a scary precedent is being set. Teams rest players late in the season all the time, and Stern seemed to acknowledge this when he said that part of the crime was how early in the season this happened. So is there a starting date when it will be OK to rest players? After the All-Star Break? The last month? The last week? And what about teams who might not be fielding as competitive teams as they possibly could be with the hopes of landing a top prospect in a draft? Will they now be fined for doing what is, in many people’s minds, a much worse offense than what Pop did?

Or do the Spurs just have to make up fake maladies now? Do we want to reward people for lying, and punish honesty? Pop’s move was more about preventing injury than rest, regardless, given the schedule.

Speaking of the schedule, take a look at it. The Spurs were playing their 6th road game in a row, and their 4th game in 5 nights, spanning from Toronto to Miami. Miami, on the other hand, hadn’t played since Saturday, and had been home for almost 2 weeks. The Spurs were walking into a trap, a high chance for a blow out. What if Pop saw this, and made the decision not only to rest his stars, but also that playing the scrubs actually gave him a better chance of winning? The Heat have been preparing for Duncan and Parker and Ginobili for 5 days, and suddenly their game plan is out the window. Plus, teams often tend to ‘play down’ to their competition. The results bear out that this could be a probable choice, even if it had nothing to do with Pop’s decision. Plus, Pop didn’t stop coaching, and the Spurs that did play played brilliantly, executing the system and showing why the system and the culture of the Spurs is so good.

OK. Maybe the issue was that the Spurs didn’t inform the league, the media, or the Heat soon enough. So if he had announced it Wednesday night would it have been OK? What if a player hurts himself in the afternoon before a game: does he have to play because it’s past the cut-off time for announcing such things?

Or maybe the NBA was mad that the stars didn’t play. Do we need classification for stars now? What if Stephen Jackson doesn’t play? Is he not big enough anymore to warrant a fine? Is there a fee structure based on how big of a star the player is?

Was the problem that the game was on TNT? Is it OK to sit players in non-important games (like the previous night’s game in Orlando, probably seen by about 25 people outside of SA and Orlando)?

No, the league will say: the fans, what about the fans? (Who will think of the children?!) Everybody understands this argument, and it certainly has merit. I was at the Portland game last year in very expensive seats when the Spurs took a dump on the court and lost by 40, playing without any of the Big 3. Was I disappointed? You bet. But as a Spurs fan, I also have trust in the people running the team to make the best choices necessary to succeed at a high level. And while I love the Big 3 with a passion that is probably a bit weird for a man in his mid-30s, I root for the Spurs, and enjoy seeing them play with whomever is on the floor.

Once you start parsing the league’s reasoning, there are a million holes to poke in it. Which is true with many rulings. But what makes this decision so troubling is it is basically saying that teams answer to the league, the business of entertainment, and not the competition of sport. A coach can coach his team, but only insofar as David Stern has given explicit approval. Pop made a decision based on many extenuating factors and sent his top 3 players home…and still almost won the game. But that doesn’t matter, because apparently he is not the one who gets to make those choices.

David Stern is.

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