It says something about a debate when you can clearly see where the other side is coming from and still find no way to logically defend it. After all, TNT is business partner with the corporation that David Stern oversees and by resting his four top scorers, Gregg Popovich made a mockery of their involvement. Simply put, it’s Pop being Pop, not giving a frisbee about appeasing the crowd and doing the same thing that has helped this team remain desirable enough to be on national TV in the first place.
Think about that for a second. The Spurs have been one of the most forward-thinking team in league as far as resting their older players and managing minutes in games they play. In a league where the Mike Browns of the world run players into the ground, Pop has extended the window of effectiveness for guys like Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili by blatantly punting games for their benefit. Because of that, they are both still key cogs for a team that TNT has or will feature regularly in each of the past two seasons when most thought the Spurs would be on their way out.
And it’s also hard to feel bad for the network. People were going to watch this game not only because it was a matchup of two of the league’s best teams, but because the league’s best player was involved. Lebron James could be playing a Division III team on TNT and casual fans were going to tune into watch this game. Sure some NBA junkies were upset at the loss of a potential Finals preview, but it’s impossible to criticize one of the methods that those same junkies would argue makes the Spurs a model franchise in the sport.
That’s not even mentioning that the precedent this sets is a rather frightening one. Stern is essentially passing arbitrary judgement on how individual franchises handle their personnel. No rule plainly states the Spurs can’t do this and word around the league is they were never contacted by the NBA front office before it happened. It may be hyperbolic, but if Stern can fine the Spurs for ‘embarrassing’ the league by sending their starters home, why shouldn’t he be levying sanctions on teams or star players that routinely loaf through meaningless games?
And if Stern is so concerned about the image of the league with their broadcast partners, how has he still not implemented a better system for training and improving the performance of referees? That groups affects the watchability of games not just during national broadcasts, but a nightly basis across the country.
In the end it just seems that Stern is using the uneasiness of the league’s broadcast partners to attack someone with the audacity to upset the established order. Pop has long been an outspoken critic of the league’s unnecessarily long schedule and his act of not only resting his key performers but sending them home was partially an act of civil disobedience.
What should have happened was Stern taking the heat from TNT with grace and style then politely reminding them that part of the league’s popularity is not only the Spurs continued success, but that their way of doing things serves as a blueprint for franchises around the league.
Instead, Stern perceived it almost as a personal attack and countered with petulant response that embarrassed the league more than Popovich’s standard defiance of corporate expectations. Stern’s fading legacy will take another hit from fans because of it. It seems as though February of 2014 can’t come quick enough.