On March 11, the Golden State Warriors, reigning Western Conference Champions, faced off against the San Antonio Spurs, the team that currently sits at second place in the Western Conference, in what was to be a premier NBA matchup between two of the best teams in the league. The Friday night matchup was nationally broadcasted, and had the potential to be one of the best regular season games of the year. Instead, the Warriors’ head coach chose to rest the team’s star players on the bench, and the Spurs won by more than 20 points.
It should come as no surprise that Kerr’s decision upset fans and the television networks, and subsequently the NBA itself. The resting of players towards the end of the season is not at all a new phenomenon, but it has once again been brought to the spotlight this week, with commissioner Adam Silver sending a memo to the league’s owners stating how seriously the league takes the issue. Silver made clear that NBA owners must play an active role in the decisionmaking behind whether or not players will rest in a game, given the stakes. The league has a 9 year, $24 billion TV contract. Anything that threatens this cash flow is, to Silver, of the highest priority.
I would like to start out by making one point: from a purely basketball perspective, Kerr’s decision, as well as the decisions of countless other coaches, to rest his star players is absolutely the correct one. This late in the season, the cost of an injury a player could get from overplaying is drastically higher than any potential benefit of one extra win. The fact of the matter is, for as fun as they may be to watch, no single regular season game is all that important in the grand scheme of the season.
Besides, minutes add up for superstars. If they want to have a long and healthy career and be able to walk when retirement does come around, then it is in their best interest to take a game off here and there. Basketball is an incredibly demanding sport, and the NBA season puts a harsh toll on the human body. Basketball players deserve a break from work in the same way that everyone deserves a break from work. Their case is strengthened by just how challenging their work is, and just how easy it is to get injured while playing.
Of course, Adam Silver and the league owners don’t give a damn about this. As owners, they profit off of stars like Steph Curry and LeBron James, and when they aren’t playing, the owners can’t make money. To think that the NBA and its owners view every three point shot or slam dunk as anything other than an entry to their balance sheet is to have a serious misunderstanding of how the sporting world, or the world in general, works. In the eyes of ownership, labor is good for one thing: creating profit, and that’s true no matter how high the salaries are.
From the perspective of a fan, the issue is slightly more complex. Fans want to watch the best basketball possible, and they can’t do that when the world’s best players are sitting on the bench. While we as fans might not make any profit from the players, we do get entertainment, and pay highly for it. Given how much they make, and how much we do pay for their salaries after all, is it really too much to ask for the players we love to play every night?
Yes. It really is. Not seeing your favorite player sucks, but seeing him get hurt is even worse. Once fans begin to recognize the humanity of the athletes they see on the court every night and this is not done often, the argument isn’t that hard. Players deserve a break every now and then. They are more than just people with amazing genes who can jump higher and run faster than any of us whose sole purpose in life is to play basketball for our enjoyment. They are workers, and like any other worker in any other job, they deserve a break every now and then.
As complicated as the situation might seem, however, there is a relatively simple solution, albeit one that those who stand to make a profit would not want. Shortening the regular season would decrease the fatigue and injuries that players could face, and would ensure that each game is more meaningful for the players and teams. In its current form, the season is a marathon, running from late October to the middle of April. Considering the fact that most of the stars will be playing well into the playoffs, relevant games go on from October to June.
82 games is obnoxiously long, and it is hard to imagine that shortening the season by 10 to 15 games would really do that much damage to fans’ enjoyment. Shortening the season would do more than reduce injuries and fatigue; it would ensure that each game is more fun to watch. With less games to play, each game is worth more, and higher stakes always lead to better basketball. Besides, by building more rest days into the schedule, players will be able to compete at a higher level for longer, which would benefit everyone.
Unfortunately for the players and fans who would benefit from the shortened schedule, one group stands to lose: the owners and the league, who are already disgustingly wealthy and determined to suck the fun out of the game for the rest of us. Shortening the season to 65 games leads to less money in the pockets of the television networks, the league, and the owners, and for that reason it will never happen.
If fans should take anything out of the events of this week, it should be to know not to take Adam Silver seriously. His job as commissioner should be to strike a balance between the players and the owners, networks, and other profit-making interest groups. He isn’t doing that. If he really is looking for a solution to the problem, there is one sitting right in front of him. That it isn’t being considered should remind the fans and players of one thing: the commissioner and the owners are not our friends, and they probably never will be.