SPORTS WATCH | Under Stern’s Reign, Coaches No Longer Needed
by Gus Jarvis
Dec 08, 2012 | 1159 views | 0 0 comments | 4 4 recommendations | email to a friend | print

I really wish the San Antonio Spurs, who were without four key players, could have found a way to beat the Miami Heat last Saturday in order to make NBA Commissioner David Stern look to be the complete jackass we all know he really is.

Stern is the commissioner of the National Basketball Association, and it’s his duty to be in charge of all things NBA, but as we’ve already seen in this guy’s long, seemingly never-ending career, he’s not afraid to take his job too far. His most recent action, fining the San Antonio Spurs $250,000, is a shining example of his willingness to go too far as a commissioner.  

Let’s back up here. Prior to last Saturday’s game against the Miami Heat, in Miami, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said some of his star – and frankly, old – players needed a rest. The team had played five games in eight days, most on the road. Prior to Saturday’s Miami game, Popovich sent four of his best players home early, including Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker, for a night off and a needed rest.

Fearing the decision would severely disappoint fans attending the Miami game, Stern vowed to impose substantial sanctions against the Spurs for making such a detrimental decision against the league. In the end, Stern lived up to his word and fined the Spurs $250,000.

As with anything commissioner Stern does, his decision to penalize the Spurs has been a lightning rod of controversy ever since. Some (probably those fans in Miami who paid for an overpriced seat to see Duncan and Co.) agree with Stern. The NBA is all about making money, and the Spurs didn’t bring their full moneymaking squad to South Beach. Others, like me, believe Stern has gone way too far with his decision.

First of all, the schedule the Spurs were given over the last two weeks was grueling. Lots of games. Lots of cities. No rest. For an aging team like the Spurs, this is the kind of schedule that can do season-long damage to a team. All it takes is a fatigued twisted knee or ankle, and a star player is out for the next half of the season.

As a fan, I will always say professional athletes get paid way too much money to do what they do. For the money they are paid, especially basketball players, I believe they should be able to play a game of hoops night in and night out. All that money will take care of all that soreness and fatigue.

In this situation, though, it’s hard not to see it from Popovich’s perspective. He is the coach of the team, and his ultimate goal is to lead his team to an NBA Championship. If his top players need rest, and he can afford losing a game or two because he’s resting key players, so be it. He’s the coach of the team and he’s paid to make tough decisions.

If it works, it works. If it doesn’t, then fire him and hire someone who doesn’t make the same decisions.

In professional sports, giving key players a night off is nothing new. Even giving more than one of those players a night off on the same night isn’t new. In the National Football League, think of all the times division leaders, who have already secured spots in the playoffs, rest almost their entire first string of offense and defense stars the last game of the season. For fans attending that last game, it sucks to see a second string quarterback in the game. But most fans understand that the team is saving its best for the playoffs when it matters most. (Don’t think for a minute that if the Broncos continue this winning streak, we’ll be watching four quarters of Peyton Manning action the final game of the season against K.C.)

In baseball, star players are often given the night off, and frankly, it is part of the manager’s job to give nights off. Hell, last year the Washington Nationals gave its young star pitcher Stephen Strasburg the last quarter of the season off, in an effort to save his arm. Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig had no problem with it. A lot of fans had a problem with it, but Selig didn’t impose any penalties.

The New York Times, in its coverage of the controversy took it a step further and asked whether or not a decision like Popovich’s would have been unethical in the business community because, as Stern would be the first to tell you, the NBA is a money-hungry business first and foremost.

“I don’t think he did anything unethical,” W. Michael Hoffman, the executive director of the center for business ethics at Bentley University in Waltham, Mass., told The Times. “I’d also say that if Stern decides to sanction, that would be closer to an ethical discussion. To sanction him for Popovich trying to do his job the best way he determines? That is what leaders of any organization are hired to do. Popovich’s primary obligation is to the team.”

To me, Hoffman brings up the best point in all of this. What is the role of the coach? Today, head coaches have so much pressure on them to succeed, and if they don’t, they are out the door like yesterday’s rubbish. And if Stern is going to hand down “sanctions” (like he’s delegating a Middle Eastern conflict here) for a coach’s strategic decisions, he’s really taking away the coach. After his decision to punish the Spurs, Stern told the media that he wasn’t worried about the precedent he could be setting. 

But I think fans should be very worried.

If Stern keeps this kind of reign up, it won’t be long before the NBA commissioner will have complete control over everything a team does. I can see it now, the commissioner in one large control room setting rosters, directing offenses and defenses for each and every team. Yes, if Stern were to continue in his position, this is the type of NBA he envisions. The day of coaches would be a distant memory.

Thankfully, Stern has announced his retirement. I’m not sure why he didn’t simply retire then, but, oh well. We are stuck with him through the rest of this season. I’m sure he’ll find more ways to anger fans and coaches alike.

At the close of Saturday’s game against the Heat, the sans-star-player Spurs came up short, and only lost by five points. Imagine what the conversation would be like, if they’d won?

Twitter: @gusgusj

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