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David Stern's stern reprimands aside, the decision to field less than your best is a time honored tradition in sports.

In 1990 a $25,000 fine was levied by Commissioner Stern against the Lakers for Pat Riley putting out a Washington Generals type squad for the last game of the regular season. The succinct response of the coach was that "I decide who the heck I want to play."

In the middle of the third quarter of game 15 of the 2009 NFL season, Peyton Manning headed to the bench, notwithstanding his team holding a tenuous 15-10 lead against the Jets. Shortly thereafter, dreams of a perfect season vanished in a 29-15 defeat and the team was booed off the field by the hometown crowd. The Jets playoff hopes, dead on arrival, were revived while others like the Steelers and Texans, fighting for the post-season could only watch and wonder. Afterwards, came the explanation. "I can narrow my scope and once you make a decision you live with it." Coach speak at its finest.

And in a shining example of oratorical beauty on this topic, Washington Nationals Manager Davey Johnson proclaimed this September: "I really don't give a rat's ass what somebody thinks about my club and who I put on the field to either help somebody else or I'm not supposed to rest my regulars after we clinch it."

It is not only those with little or nothing to lose who play this game (or more accurately, don't), In August of 2010, the Yankees were battling for first place with the Tampa Bay Rays. On a Sunday, manager Joe Girardi left A-Rod and several other regulars on the bench. When explaining the resulting 3-0 loss, which dropped their lead to a single game, Girardi said, "I'm just playing so I don't blow somebody out...People they're gonna question it, but I gotta think about the long haul."

The decision of the Spurs to send four regulars home before a nationally televised game against the Miami Heat this week was certainly not a determination one could anticipate. A marquis match-up and then it wasn't. Yet the fact that the game was in doubt until the last seconds should make for more than an interesting asterisk.

Is there something larger than a responsibility to your own team? In sports, particular professional sports, is there an obligation to put on the best show every night? The answer of the coaches sited herein, when forced to address those questions, are clear and certain.

Did Coach Popovich step over some mythical line any more than the others? Did he damage the integrity of the game or did he merely make a tactical decision, and in the process send a message both to the soon to be departing Mr. Stern and the next NBA czar about protecting players against unreasonable scheduling demands of the league?

This was not equivalent to the actions of the Olympic badminton players from South Korea, China and Indonesia intentionally "not using one's efforts to win a match" and "conducting oneself in a manner clearly abusive or detrimental to the sport."

Commissioner Stern apologized to the fans and pounded the Spurs for their transgression. He should instead be apologizing to the coach for condemning his decision to consider the welfare of his team rather than the overnight TV numbers.

Even God rested on the seventh day.

Cross-posted from Too Early To Call.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Pop is right. Stern is wrong. (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    VClib, kevinpdx
    "...a nationally televised game against the Miami Heat..."
    You didn't quite tell the whole story.  Just how many days had the Spurs been on the road?  How about the schedule thus far for the Miami team?

    San Antonio is an amazing franchise which survives on individual season ticket holders and not corporate greed.

    I love this quote from a recent ESPN article.  

    But Pop could care less. That's the beauty of him, what he does and how he does it. He doesn't care about any of this, doesn't care about any reaction Stern will throw his way. Pop's job is to run the San Antonio Spurs in a way that makes them contend year after year after year for a title and the honor of being one of the more respected franchises in sports.

    "When I use a word," Humpty Dumpty (Mittens, Paul Ryan, Scotty Walker, Limbaugh, pick your favorite) said in rather a scornful tone, "it means just what I choose it to mean -- neither more nor less."

    by Eman on Sat Dec 01, 2012 at 09:36:47 AM PST

  •  I'm of two minds on this issue. On one hand (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    walkshills

    resting players during a grueling season in order to save them for the long haul is understandable and frequently done but not to such a large extent as four star players.  On the other hand the basketball world needs to remember they are here for our entertainment.  Stern seems to understand that well.  An argument can be made that resting players provides for a better quality of entertainment in the long run.  In this case it was a marque match up on a national stage. I'm a huge fan of Pop but I think he could have used better judgment. Of course if I told Pop my opinion he'd tell me to go shove it.  

    Romney is George W. Bush without brains.

    by thestructureguy on Sat Dec 01, 2012 at 09:48:35 AM PST

    •  Pop sending these four players home (0+ / 0-)

      was a flagrant foul.

      Complete disregard for NBA policy/procedure.  There is no reason why these four players could not have been sitting on the bench in street clothes. True, it would have made the explanation more challenging, but perhaps that is why he sent them home in the first place.

      Republicans espouse individualism, Democrats embrace citizenship.

      by SpiffPeters on Sat Dec 01, 2012 at 10:44:53 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Travel is not a restful experience (0+ / 0-)

        If the goal is to give them rest, I bet most would prefer to rest at home rather than in airports, at an arena with thousands of people, etc.

        •  It isn't like these guys are traveling coach (0+ / 0-)

          and standing around a terminal, dealing with baggage claim and so on.

          These players travel in manner most people will never even realize.

          Indeed, traveling is difficult. But every measure of comfort and convenience is afforded these elite athletes to ensure peak performance. At least for the games they play.

          It's a little difficult for me to conjure much sympathy for a professional athlete.

          Republicans espouse individualism, Democrats embrace citizenship.

          by SpiffPeters on Sat Dec 01, 2012 at 12:13:31 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

  •  It's Sterns fault (0+ / 0-)

    The NBA made the schedule, so if he wants to point fingers, point them at himself.

    It's not surprising though, because the major national sports commissioners are total idiots. It's almost impossible for me to pick which one I hate the most.

    a little bit of this, a little bit of that

    by MWV on Sat Dec 01, 2012 at 10:00:29 AM PST

  •  This is sports entertainment. (0+ / 0-)

    If the players are unable to play the scheduled games in the season (barring injury or occasional rest), then perhaps they are too old for the league.

    The NBA, more so than any other sports entertainment league, is star driven. People wanted to see the matchups provided by the elite players on both teams. Instead, we were treated to a squad of scrubs.

    And believe me, I know that when your team's lineup is considerably different than what was scouted by the opponent, you gain an advantage.

    Couple seasons back my Blazers suffered an obscene number of injuries, including the coach blowing out his Achilles tendon. Yes, it got that ridiculous. However, the team did fairly well because on a nightly basis the starting lineup and resulting player rotations were unpredictable. Scouting reports do not generally go too deep. And when you have unknown players and unknown sets and plays, the game changes.

    I have no problem with a coach not playing a player. But what Pop did was beyond the pale. First, he did not inform the league, as he is required. Second, 80% of his starting lineup was not even in the building - they were at their homes, presumably watching the game. Third, none of these players were injured, they were tired.

    It was a fairly long road trip, but not the longest they've been on. It was the fourth game in five nights. The road trip started in Boston and ended in Miami. The four games in between were against terrible teams. Perhaps knowing the Miami game was a heavily promoted product, Pop could have managed the starters minutes such that they would be fresh for the Miami game?

    This is not Pop's first brush with claiming to look at the 'Big Picture'. In the season prior to drafting Duncan, the Spurs were horrible. They were a lottery team for sure, and Pop engaged in benching players and generally failing to field the most competitive team possible throughout the season so as to increase their chances of getting the number one pick. Duncan was the prize of that draft class, and everyone wanted him. Pop just did what no one else would have ever considered.

    So I think Pop and the Spurs got what they deserve. About time someone called them out for this.

    Republicans espouse individualism, Democrats embrace citizenship.

    by SpiffPeters on Sat Dec 01, 2012 at 10:06:23 AM PST

    •  Sportswriter Michael Bradley said it best (0+ / 0-)

      This was about TV ratings, Bradley skewered the numbnuts at ESPN for dancing around the issue.  Personally If I owmned the Spurs I would either pay Pop's fine or tell David Stern to go Dick Cheney himself.  

      One does not simply walk into Mordor! One invites a gas driller in, and one’s land becomes Mordor. Chris From Balloon Juice

      by Mr Stagger Lee on Sat Dec 01, 2012 at 01:27:28 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Absolutely this was about TV ratings (0+ / 0-)

        The NBA is a business and if marquee players or teams are not going to appear as advertised, there are going to be a lot of unhappy customers.

        I don't know about your situation, but I go to several NBA games a season and shell out over $150 for each game. If I were to attend a game where 80% of the opponents lineup, or my teams lineup, unexpectedly were not even sitting on the bench in street clothes, I would be a little unhappy.

        $150 may not be much to Pop and company, but it's a lot to me. I'm not paying that kind of money to watch the second string.

        Republicans espouse individualism, Democrats embrace citizenship.

        by SpiffPeters on Sat Dec 01, 2012 at 02:06:58 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  You buy your tickee, you takee your chances. (0+ / 0-)

          How about major league pitchers being scratched or key NFL players being sat down late in the NFL season ato the dismay of those poor ticket holders? Anytime you buy a ticket, any number of things can happen where the 'stars' may not show up for any number of reasons, including Stern suspending them. That's an inherent risk.

          So, perhaps this is really a confrontation between entertainment vs. sports (not to mention that Pops did this last year as well, with no comment from Stern).

          Was Stern merely reacting to the fans in the building before the game, a relatively small number in the overall? Hell, the gambling interests with their betting lines and bets already in the hopper had more serious interest than the fans.

          What if the Spurs had won...they were up 98-97 with 22.6 seconds left in the game before Allen hit the trey. Any argument with concerns about that game being competitive and sporting is a joke. Hell of a game.

          I'd bet someone put Sterns against the wall, and he had to do something because allegedly it was his phony-baloney job, even if the decision was stupid, which it was. Interesting to see who's ordering him around.  

          The first rule of power is to use it only when you need it...this was far past 3 SDs of need.

          The truth is we are tortured by the truth.

          by walkshills on Sat Dec 01, 2012 at 02:54:38 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  Certainly things happen (0+ / 0-)

            I would have never imagine that 4 out of 5 starters were sitting at home watching the game though.

            Pop tanked the season prior to drafting Duncan. They were lottery bound anyway, so he took the chance that losing more games would increase their chances of getting the first pick.

            As a customer of a sport entertainment industry, I have a reasonable expectation that the entertainers will at least attempt to provide entertainment.

            Injuries happen. As a Blazer fan I know this all to well. But sending 4 starters home.... I don't care how big of a picture Pop is looking at, that is just wrong.

            Sitting Manning in the last half of the last game of an undefeated season IS different. the NFL is a game of aggression and violent impacts. The intent is to always physically dominant and neutralize the opponent.

            Basketball is not a violent game. Usually.

            Besides, Pop had four games on this trip that he could have rested these guys on. He could have sent Duncan and Ginobli ahead to Miami a couple days in advance. Could have started Parker (who is only 30) and let him sit out the second half of the game the night before.

            Pop failed to manage his resources and his solution was to ship them home and play the second string. Not fair to ticket buying fans. Not a legitimate excuse for missing the game.

            Republicans espouse individualism, Democrats embrace citizenship.

            by SpiffPeters on Sat Dec 01, 2012 at 05:50:43 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

            •  Ha. Tonight Pop sent in the second string (0+ / 0-)

              to save the game when they were down 13 in the fourth. And they did. Sometimes the lines between first and second strings - on elite teams anyway - are sorta blurry. In basketball, it's whose hot.

              If I had to pinpoint Pop's real motive, I would say that he wanted to set up the second string, especially Splitter, to handle some serious responsibility. The better Splitter is, the more they can rest Duncan. If SA has serious goals in the playoffs, their second team has to be just a little better than it was last year. Sometimes there are situations you can't replicate, not in practice, not in games when everyone is sitting there...only when it fall unequivocally on someone will you know.

              I also think Stern lives with his head up his ass.

              The truth is we are tortured by the truth.

              by walkshills on Sun Dec 02, 2012 at 12:30:29 AM PST

              [ Parent ]

              •  I am not a big fan of Stern either (0+ / 0-)

                That said, he works for the owners. And if the owners have a problem with him protecting the integrity of the product, they'll set him straight.

                The league can not tacitly, or explicitly approve of what Pop did. This is a copy cat league and pretty soon you would see elite, playoff bound teams 'resting' their starting lineups en mas.

                This is a star driven league, and when fans show up to see the visiting A team square off against the home team (or the visiting teams fans are there to see them), there better be a very good reason for their absence.

                Pop violated league policy on this matter. And the policy is in place for a reason. He does not have to like the policy, but is required to adhere to it.

                Republicans espouse individualism, Democrats embrace citizenship.

                by SpiffPeters on Sun Dec 02, 2012 at 09:09:04 AM PST

                [ Parent ]

  •  Here's the gig (0+ / 0-)

    The coach does what's best for the team.
    The commissioner does what's best for the game.

    That's the long and short of it. Who decides which of the two has precedence? Got me on that one.

    Either you're wit' us or a Guinness -- Brilliant!

    by Unforgiven on Sat Dec 01, 2012 at 10:39:43 AM PST

  •  I'm a Horned Frog fan. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    walkshills

    And they benched their Quarterback in October.

    TCU quarterback Casey Pachall has been suspended indefinitely after he was arrested early Thursday on suspicion of driving while intoxicated, coach Gary Patterson announced today.
    I am saddened that the decision cost the team their chance to compete for the championship, but I understand that college football is about more than winning, especially at a religious based school.

    Coaches and others have to look at more than just the current game and should have the flexibility to make the decisions related to whom will play.

    I, for one, have no problem being led by a 3500 year old Pharaoh who was trained by space aliens on a distant star.

    by Tomtech on Sat Dec 01, 2012 at 11:18:32 AM PST

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