I could write about the obvious – the impending BCS Bowl game featuring the University of Louisville Cardinals against what’s predicted to be some tough, football giant from the Sunshine State. But, while I was watching the highly-anticipated, heart-pounding Louisville vs. Rutgers matchup last night, I noticed something happening across the pond in the realm of basketball that just didn’t sit well with me.
Amidst tweets about the football game and Teddy Bridgewater – or should I say, Teddy Football – word broke that David Stern was extremely unhappy with San Antonio Spurs’ Head Coach Gregg Popovich’s decision to rest his team leaders in a game against last year’s NBA Championship team, the Miami Heat. Stern assured “substantial sanctions” would be placed on the Spurs for doing the absolutely unthinkable – giving starters who not only play at least 82 games in a year, but many of whom have been playing 82 for each of the last 10 years, the opportunity to save their aging legs, rehabilitate a nagging ailment or simply take a much-needed day off.
If you play under Stern’s rules, such a concept is preposterous. How could “Pop” be so brazen to sit out his top four men against the marquee Miami Heat? Down-time isn’t acceptable in this League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. Digging deep into your bench to pluck out a few nobodies is certainly a mortal sin in this absolutely pristine National Basketball Association.
In one way, I do understand Stern’s argument: What about the fans who paid the money to see two powerhouse teams duke it out in a regular season game? Is it fair these people should shovel out all that money to sit and stare at the reserves on the floor?
Obviously, it’s disappointing to the many San Antonio fans who trekked – some more than 20 hours and 1,300 miles – to see their team face the Heat. (That’s sarcasm if you didn’t catch it.)
The game was held inside American Airlines Arena, the Heat’s home court – How many attendees dressed in White-Hot-Heat gear do you think actually cared who LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Ray Allen were facing? Some may have been excited to see the trio go head-to-head against the traditionally top-notch Spurs, but, come on, it’s a regular season game.
What team actually goes 110 percent the entire game unless it’s the playoffs? And what team actually gives 110 percent on defense during the regular season, besides maybe the Spurs? This isn’t quality bang-for-your-buck kind of entertainment. It’s a mostly insignificant matchup that will happen again March 31 if anyone’s really that concerned about what they were “cheated” out of last night.
Let’s just suppose some in attendance actually were there solely to witness Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili or Danny Green battle the Heat. Had one of those players, or even one of the Heat’s, unexpectedly gotten injured or sick prior to the game and sat out, should Stern sanction them too to appease the disappointed fanatic?
If this were a Broadway play, watching reserves fill the role of the star would be common and accepted. I once went to a production of “Hairspray” in New York City featuring Norm from “Cheers” as Tracy Turnblad’s mother and Ashley Parker Angel as Link Larkin. So, they’re not the biggest celebrities today, but I was looking forward to watching, up close, the two act and sing, nonetheless. However, as the lights dimmed, to my chagrin, a stand-in replacing Parker Angel had appeared. Did the former O-Town star get sanctioned for resting his vocal chords that evening? I highly doubt it.
Despite his absence, though, the musical is, to this day, the single best show I’ve personally seen on Broadway, or anywhere else for that matter. No, the “star” wasn’t there, but other people stepped up, shined and made every second worth the ticket price.
The exact same thing happened with the Spurs-Heat game. Gary Neal, a Towson University transfer, originally from La Salle University, ascended from nonexistence to lead the Spurs in scoring – Who would have thought? At one point, the leader for San Antonio was Nando de Colo of France. When checking updates on the ScoreCenter app, a photo wasn’t even available of the unknown, and yet, at the time, the Spurs were actually BEATING the star-laden Heat.
San Antonio remained neck-and-neck the entire way through until, at 22.6 seconds left, my once-favorite Celtics player-turned traitor Ray Allen, of the Miami Heat, sank a debilitating blow: a 27-foot 3-point shot.
Damn you, Ray. Damn you, again.
Sadly, the Spurs couldn’t recover, losing 105-100. But, remember this wasn’t the typical Spurs team, and one you probably won’t see much of the rest of the season. However, with its one chance to shine, the jumbled-up squad rose to the occasion against Goliath.
As a Celtics fan, I naturally already wanted the Heat to lose no matter what. Seeing the scrubs hang tight with “Erik Spoelstra’s” team, I jumped off the edge of my seat, wondering should I flip away from ESPN for just one second to watch greatness in action. (As a die-hard Cards fan, I just couldn’t turn the channel). Stern can argue the Spurs were cheating the fans, but I say it made for even better television and/or live-action viewing.
Regardless, the Spurs-Heat score demonstrates Stern’s initial reaction to Popovich’s decision was highly unwarranted. The semi-Spurs gave the viewers a game. Isn’t that what you want? It was sheer entertainment! – And probably sheer fright for los Heat aficionados.
Stern only proved last night why NBA fans have been waiting, and waiting some more, for him to finally hang up his commissioner suit.
Let Coach Pop do as he pleases, David. If you want to criticize any coach, maybe you should look to the other side of the bench at Spoelstra. The man barely deserves his title – But that’s another story.
What Popovich did wasn’t wrong. In fact, it should maybe even be praised a little. If anyone should be sanctioned, it should be Stern for his ridiculous, left-field, self-imposed restriction on the league.