A matchup between the best team in the Eastern Conference and the best team in the Western Conference is (usually) considered to be must-see television for the league.
That statement becomes even more true when you have two rosters (the Miami Heat and San Antonio Spurs) that are just loaded with talent going head-to-head.
So just imagine how upset Commissioner David Stern got when he was informed that Spurs coach Gregg Popovich had sent four of his top players (Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and Danny Green) home to rest instead of competing.
The Spurs were playing their sixth road game in nine nights. Popovich did what was best for the long-term success of his team by letting those four have the night off.
In April, NBA.com had reported that San Antonio was a pathetic 0-7 when their “Big Three” were held out of games. Those losses came with a combined average defeat of 15 points.
Without consulting with the Spurs first, Stern released a statement concerning the controversial move.
I apologize to all NBA fans. This was an unacceptable decision by the San Antonio Spurs and substantial sanctions will be forthcoming.
David Stern clearly has to look out for the best interest of the fans and the overall on-court product. With four of the Spurs top players being sent away and two other key parts (Kawhi Leonard and Stephen Jackson) nursing injuries, San Antonio was left with just nine healthy bodies who the casual NBA fan had probably never heard of until last night.
Did it ruin the game?
Not in the slightest.
The Spurs actually had a lead entering the fourth quarter, which included a seven point lead with 4:48 remaining and a five point lead with just 2:14 left in the game. The Heat eventually secured the win, 105-100.
What many had predicted to be a blowout victory for the defending NBA champions, turned out to be one of the more competitive and intriguing games of the year, especially considering the circumstances.
Sure, the fans in attendance probably didn’t pay their hard-earned money to see Matt Bonner light it up from downtown or Tiago Splitter dominate the pain, but despite that, what they all wound up with was two and a half hours of very entertaining basketball.
None of that matters to Commissioner Stern. It shouldn’t though.
Didn’t the Spurs do this last year as well? Listing Tim Duncan as “DNP-old” sounds very similar to this situation (and hysterical). Since it was a condensed 66-game season, perhaps Stern let it slide.
Now that we have a full slate of games, those shenanigans will not fly anymore.
There is no official rule in place that prevents NBA coaches from benching their key/star players just for the sake of getting rested up. Popovich didn’t violate any regulation that was set in place by the league or its higher-ups.
What he did do was cheese off a few thousand fans (or the few hundred who actually cared), as well as the leagues loyal sponsors who expected great things from this game.
It amuses me to see David Stern stick up for the fan base in such a noble way. I suppose he’s making up for all of the missed games and all of the pain caused due to last years Lockout.
He sure didn’t care about them then.
I also don’t see how this whole dilemma differs from when teams headed to the lottery at the end of every season bench their important players to “tank” games and possibly increase their chances of securing #1 picks.
That’s actually worse. The Spurs weren’t throwing in the towel, but those teams were.
Popovich and the Spurs organization are clearly going to see ramifications for this move. I don’t foresee any suspensions on the horizon, but a slap on the wrist financially seems more than likely.
It’s ultimately not going to mean anything.
It’s not as if Gregg didn’t have valid reasons. He’s a four-time NBA champion coaching this team.
He knows what he’s doing.
Christopher Walder is the Lead Editor for Sir Charles in Charge. You can follow him on Twitter @WALDERSPORTS