UPDATE: The San Antonio Spurs drew a $250,000 fine from NBA commissioner David Stern after coach Gregg Popovich benched four regulars in Thursday’s 105-100 loss at Miami.
Stern – in a statement Friday – ruled that the Spurs violated a league policy dealing with “resting players in manner contrary to the best interests of the N.B.A.” He also called it “a disservice” to the league and its fans.
“If the N.B.A. punishes the Spurs for sitting players, it opens up a huge can of worms,” former NBA star and current TNT analyst Steve Kerr Tweeted earlier.
Popovich sent home Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker and Danny Green ahead of Thursday’s game, which was San Antonio’s fourth game in five days and sixth in nine days, all on the road.
EARLIER: With his plan to have the San Antonio Spurs “stay on the court with Memphis on Saturday night,” coach Gregg Popovich has drawn the ire of NBA commissioner David Stern.
Popovich – resting four starters at the end of a four-games-in-five-days road stretch – watched his Spurs fall to the defending champion Miami Heat 105-100 on Thursday after blowing a five-point lead with 2:14 left. It was not just another game – the matchup was nationally televised and obviously highly anticipated by TNT.
Stern called the Spurs’ sitdown “unacceptable” and promised action. Popovich said he was more concerned with playing the league-leading Grizzlies (11-2 entering Friday, two games ahead of San Antonio) than enduring four road games in five nights.
“It’s pretty logical,” the coach said before the loss in Miami that marked the lone Spurs defeat in the six-game road trip.
Popovich also rested older players last season in a decision OK’d by the league. (I guess players get more tired this season)
With the average NBA ticket price near $50, according to a Team Marketing Report study last winter, it’s understandable why Stern – and probably a few fans – are upset. Stern knows folks are paying top dollar to watch backups do the heavy lifting. He also knows that Turner Sports (TNT’s parent) and ESPN/ABC pay the league $930 million to carry games, according to the Associated Press.
There’s also the integrity factor – aren’t clubs obligated to put their best team on the floor, ice or field?
ALTERNATIVE OPINION: Stern vs. the Spurs
While the NBA wrestles with Popovich’s lineup moves, other pro sports have had similar instances.
NFL teams have often rested starters in late-season and exhibition games, despite charging regular ticket prices. And the Washington Nationals fielded a playoff roster minus pitching star Stephen Strasburg, who could only watch as the Nats blew the deciding game of their division series against the St. Louis Cardinals.
For the record, Tim Duncan is San Antonio’s old man in the Coach Pop sitdown at 36 years old. Manu Ginobili is 35 and Tony Parker is 30. At 25, Danny Green is the youngster who apparently needs the rest.
And maybe the most important thing: Several outlets reported that Las Vegas adjusted the line to the Spurs-Heat game.
STRIKING OUT FOR WHAT’S FAIR
Paul Newberry of the Associated Press wrote a terrific piece – sort of an open letter to major college football players – picked up by the Worcester (Mass.) Telegram & Gazette, urging players to strike for wages.
Newberry notes how the money keeps getting larger and larger as conferences realign and bigger and bigger TV contracts are signed.
(Sports Business Daily reported recently that ESPN’s rights fee for the expanded BCS playoff format and the network’s current bowl commitments could reach $7.3 billion over 12 years, starting in 2014. That’s more than $600 annually and a major increase over the current rate.)
Among Newberry’s insightful observations for the athletes:
“(Colleges and universities) tout tougher academic standards and graduation rates, buy they’re mainly concerned about keeping you eligible to take the field.”
“South Carolina’s Steve Spurrier suggested he and his coaching colleagues … reach into their own wallets to provide a little somethin.’ His plan was derided as folly, the ramblings of an aging coach who doesn’t really understand how the system works.”
Of course, many would prefer the status quo, stating that the kids get their education – and that’s enough. But the argument has grown stale as the unpaid players on the field help boost bigger salaries for coaches and top administrators. Also, there’s the argument that if you pay male athletes, you have to do the same for female players. So, just do it — pay them.
As Newberry tells the current players: “What you guys need is someone like Marvin Miller,” while also urging college athletes to build their case on Twitter and Facebook.
— Bob Kimball