I need to do a bit of catching up on happenings in the world of basketball today. Forgive the fact that some of the events behind these comments are more than a week old. The most important basketball event of recent times was the $250K fine levied on the San Antonio Spurs by David Stern because the Spurs did not dress four of their star players for a game against the Miami Heat that was on national TV. Some have seen that as improper meddling by the NBA Commissioner into a team’s strategic decisions; others believe that David Stern acted in the best interests of the league and the sport by making it clear that ratings for nationally televised games are critical to the success of the league.
Both sides have a point; there is merit on both sides of the argument here. [Aside: Since I rarely have much to say about David Stern that is flattering, you have to appreciate the multiple layers of this matter.] My issue with the punishment levied here is what happens in the future. Clearly, this fine was precedent setting and I have to think that the NBA aspires to treating all teams equally under similar circumstances. Cue Hamlet here:
“Aye, there’s the rub.”
What exactly are the circumstances that caused the Commissioner to come down on the Spurs like an avalanche?
Did they rest too many players at the same time? Would it have been OK only to rest two of the star players in that game?
If the game were not on national TV – say it was a Wednesday night game in Cleveland – and the Spurs rested those same players, would that result in a fine? If not, does that mean that the fans who paid to see that game in Cleveland are somehow less important than the fans who might watch a game on national TV or attend a game in Miami? [Yes, I purposely picked Cleveland and Miami as the two cities to place in apposition here…]
In February and March, teams with playoff positions solidified will all start to rest veteran players – by either sitting them out for a game or reducing their minutes significantly. Will the NBA be monitoring those game decisions? If so, what might be its criteria for deciding when to levy a fine?
Was the Spurs’ sin actually the admission that the players were given the night off to rest instead of reporting/pretending that they had elbow tendonitis? If that is the case, one might predict an epidemic of elbow tendonitis to break out among NBA players in the next several months. Who knew tendonitis was contagious? Call the Nobel Committee…
There is no way David Stern or his understudy can possibly run the league if they are going to involve themselves in coaching decisions related to who plays and who does not play on any given night. Moreover, the fine levied in this case encourages teams and coaches to engage in subterfuge with regard to injuries/playing decisions. And that is not good because…
What was it that Tim Donaghy had that was worth “selling” to his gambling friends?
Donaghy knew which officiating teams were assigned to upcoming games and for some bizarre reason the NBA held that information like a state secret. That information thereby became valuable. Take a look at the situation here. If a gambler knew in advance when the Spurs were going to give 4 star players the night off… You would have thought David Stern and the NBA would have learned about the silliness of creating a category of secret information that does not need to be secret from the Donaghy mess.
One more thing, David Stern said that he levied the fine because the surprise benching of the star players did not show proper respect for the fans who wanted to see these two top teams play at top strength. OK, I can agree with that. Now, since David Stern has decided to focus on such fine-grained matters, might I ask him why he allowed – and how will he prevent in the future – making any NBA team play four games in five nights in four different cities?
Enough about that… I have a question for the fans of the Philadelphia 76ers:
How is that trade for Andrew Bynum working out?
The day the trade was announced, I wrote here that Bynum – talented as he may be – was a bad fit for Philadelphia. Bynum is often injured and seems always to recover from injury very slowly. If he ever plays in a Sixers’ uniform, he will bring a history of 12 points and 8 rebounds per game to the court at a price of $16,473,002 this year. In a blue-collar town like Philly, that might work if he hit the court and played with some kind of ferocity/intensity. He won’t.
Men’s college basketball is underway. The devaluation of the college basketball season as a result of the intense focus on March Madness continues. Bob Molinaro had this cogent observation about the state of college basketball in the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot recently:
“Time to end the gimmick of playing college basketball on aircraft carriers. Games in Charleston, S.C., and Jacksonville were sabotaged by condensation on the court, while San Diego’s high winds contributed to another travesty. Playing college games outdoors is further evidence of how lightly the sport is taken in November. The powers that be in TV and college think they have to attract attention with sideshows.”
Seriously, what is the next gimmick these folks might want to try to draw lots attention to an early season college basketball game? Play it in a submerged submarine? How about joining with the NHL – if the NHL ever plays again – and have a college basketball game outdoors on a platform above the ice at the Winter Classic? Or maybe on the White House lawn?
Here is the problem that NCAA basketball mavens do not want to confront:
There are too many games on television; the product has been diluted to homeopathic levels. Televised collegiate basketball games prior to the NCAA Tournament are not events; at best, they are occurrences; at times, they are annoyances.
Finally, let me close today with one more observation from Bob Molinaro regarding college basketball on TV:
“With its men’s basketball teams scheduled to appear on TV this season 327 times – 201 on national networks – the ACC will prove the axiom that more is less.”
However, do not get me wrong, I love sports…