David Stern threatened “substantial sanctions” upon learning that Gregg Popovich had chosen to hold Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, and Danny Green out of Thursday night’s nationally-televised contest in Miami. Today, Stern delivered on his controversial promise by fining the Spurs $250,000. The announcement came via an official statement from the league in which Stern accuses the Spurs of doing a “disservice to the league and [its] fans.” You can read the entire statement below, courtesy of InsideHoops.com…
The NBA announced today that the San Antonio Spurs organization has been fined $250,000 for its decision to send four players home prior to the Spurs’ Nov. 29 game in Miami. The Spurs’ actions were in violation of a league policy, reviewed with the NBA Board of Governors in April 2010, against resting players in a manner contrary to the best interests of the NBA.
NBA Commissioner David Stern stated: “The result here is dictated by the totality of the facts in this case. The Spurs decided to make four of their top players unavailable for an early-season game that was the team’s only regular-season visit to Miami. The team also did this without informing the Heat, the media, or the league office in a timely way. Under these circumstances, I have concluded that the Spurs did a disservice to the league and our fans.”
There are an awful lot of questions to be asked and answered here. Has Stern acted within his rights? What rule did the Spurs actually break? Must teams alert the league office any time a star is to be held out of a game? If so, how far in advance must they do so? At what point in the season does it become okay to start resting players? Gregg Popovich and the Spurs have strategically rested their starters for years, so why is it a problem now?
It’s a problem now because last night’s game was on TNT, of course. In the past, Popovich has rested the same group of players, but never for an early-season game scheduled to be shown on national television. Popovich wasn’t concerned with any of that, obviously — only that this game was his team’s fourth in five nights, and the last of a long road swing.
Allow me to bring up the fact that this situation is not unprecedented. In 1990, Stern fined the Lakers $25,000 for holding Magic Johnson and James Worthy out of a road game against the Portland Trail Blazers. What I don’t understand here is the commissioner’s inconsistency. If “substantial sanctions” are going to come into play, shouldn’t some sort of rule be written to address such scenarios? And until there is such a rule, shouldn’t random benchings go unpunished? Healthy superstar players are held out of late-season games all the time, and with the exception of the 1990 Lakers, I’ve never heard of a team being reprimanded. Is it okay or is it not okay? Stern shouldn’t be allowed to pick and choose based on specific scenarios that revolve around television ratings (a “disservice to the fans” my ass — y’all put us through a damn lockout last year, I think we can handle being subjected to a five-point game in November).
In this particular case, I believe it would’ve made the most sense for Stern to issue Popovich and the Spurs a simple warning. Explain to them what’s acceptable, what isn’t acceptable, and what will happen if they “rest players in a manner contrary to the best interests of the NBA.” I don’t believe it’s just to fine a team any amount of money for doing something they’ve been allowed to do for years just because the opponent/venue/tv schedule made it an inconvenience from the perspective of the league. Rules should always be made clear before they are enforced. In this case, they most certainly were not.
And let’s not act as though injury is an illegitimate concern when dealing with 36-year-old athletes and 82-game seasons. The Spurs have been one of the most successful franchises in the NBA’s recent history in large part because they’ve been able to maintain a healthy roster. None of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, or Manu Ginobili have suffered any catastrophic injuries despite making more than 2,600 combined appearances. While they have obviously been fortunate, I’m surprised that Stern didn’t take San Antonio’s history of health and success into account when contemplating his decision.
On the lighter side of things…