Over the last few years there has been a sharp increase in players missing games due to “rest.” In 2013, there were eight such games, while in 2015 there were 37 such games. So far this season, there have been 70 such games. “Rest” has become an accepted excuse for an NBA player to miss his team’s game.
The issue of players “resting” famously came to the national spotlight back in 2012, when former NBA Commissioner David Stern fined the San Antonio Spurs $250,000 after head coach Gregg Popovich sat Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, and Danny Green during a nationally televised game against LeBron James and the Miami Heat. The issue prominently resurfaced last week when LeBron James, Kevin Love, and Kyrie Irving sat out against the Los Angeles Clippers in a much-hyped nationally televised game. Right before tipoff, after learning the superstars would be “resting,” analyst Mark Jackson remaarked, “This is an absolute joke.”
The NBA front office agreed. Following the game, Commissioner Adam Silver sent out a memo to every NBA team saying, “Decisions of this kind can affect fans and business partners, impact our reputation, and damage the perception of our game… Please also be reminded that under current league rules, teams are required to provide notice to the league office, their opponent, and the media immediately upon a determination that a player will not participate in a game due to rest… Failure to abide by these rules will result in significant penalties.”
With this threat, the NBA front office is maintaining a stance which I tend to agree with. Give the fans proper warning and you could sit your star players if you want, but don’t announce a few minutes before tipoff that you’re sitting the player everyone in the building came to see.
Karl Malone, one of the most versatile players in NBA history, backed up the commissioner by tweeting, “If you don’t have at least 10 years’ experience, get your *** playing. It’s not work, it’s called playing.” Houston Rockets point guard Patrick Beverly similarly weighed in, saying that it is “a disgrace to this league” and “fans deserve better.” Clearly, some players take it personally if you don’t play the game as hard as they do.
Ironically, LeBron James’ greatest rival, Kobe Bryant, came to his defense. “When you miss a game, there is that one kid out there who isn’t going to be able to see his favorite player play. With that being said, LeBron has done so much for the game and he’s earned the opportunity to be able to take a rest, he’s earned that… He has done so much to elevate the game and has earned the right for us to give him the benefit of the doubt.” So, according to Bryant, also one of the most durable players in NBA history, if you make it to six straight NBA Finals and play in the Olympics, you deserve to “rest” every few games. While some players offered further support to James, others scoffed at him.
Regardless of whether players are entitled to nights off, the fans still lose out. A family of four that only goes to one game per year could break their bank to save up for the one-time Stephen Curry or LeBron James comes to town. Making sure players announce they’re missing a game due to “rest” at least 12 hours prior to the game will help, as it will prevent instances of fans travelling to the game, fulling expecting to see their favorite player, only to be heartbroken when he’s nowhere to be found.
Former Coach of the Year Doc Rivers has called for a change to the schedule around nationally televised games. One suggestion would be to make sure these nationally televised games are not the second half of a back-to-back, since these are games players are more likely to miss. The NBA itself also should share some of the blame. The NBA benefits tremendously by promoting individual players, and needs to live with the consequences if those star players don’t play. NBA teams are most exciting to watch when their superstars are competing, but the teams become drastically less exciting to watch when the superstars do not participate. It’s almost as if the team element is gone, with fans just coming to watch their favorite players rather than a team as a whole.
I think that if players 40 years ago, who lacked the kind of physical fitness training regimen available today, were able to play the entire season without taking nights off, there’s no reason superstars today should sit due to “rest.” If they do, then they had better put in their 12-hour notice.
Efraim Andrew Wakschlag is originally from Silver Spring and currently lives in Chicago. He attended the Yeshiva of Greater Washington and graduated from Yeshiva University in 2014. He is a prolific writer on the NBA and authored “10 Squared: An Unconventional Analysis on the NBA” when he was in Yeshiva University.