Following high-profile instances of an NBA team resting it star player(s), NBA Commissioner Adam Silver sent a memo to the league’s board of governors. The memo describes the ways in which this practice of resting players is bad for the league:
Decisions of this kind … can affect fans and business partners, impact our reputation and damage the perception of our game. With so much at stake, it is simply not acceptable for governors to be uninvolved or to defer decision-making authority on these matters to others in their organizations.
In other words, the decision to rest players is bad for business and unfair to fans. Furthermore, the players don’t need the time off. Resting players in the absence of injury merely contributes to the perception that the quality of the NBA product has wavered and lends credence to the notion that current players do not measure up to players of the past.
While most, Adam Silver included, seemingly do not dispute the right of teams to rest players when deemed necessary, it is the timing of the rest which becomes problematic.
When the Cleveland Cavaliers sit LeBron James during a Sunday night game or when both the Golden State Warriors and San Antonio Spurs rest their star players for a Saturday night game broadcast on national television, it’s a problem. Ratings for the game are bound to be lower than expected, resulting in decreased advertising revenue. Fans are robbed of perhaps their sole opportunity to see Steph Curry play in person.
A few different solutions have been offered to this issue. Build more off-days into the NBA schedule. Make healthy, resting players go through every other aspect of NBA game day. Give refunds to fans and business partners if players are rested. Cut minutes-per-game instead of sitting the player for a full game. Or, if you’re going to sit a player, sit them at home.
In essence, the argument is to take the game out of the hands of those actually controlling the outcome, the coaches and players.
But there is no need for these “solutions” because the underlying arguments are illogical. They make no sense.
First, NBA players do not miss more games now than in the past. According to data from Man-Games Lost, the total number of games missed has been relatively steady over the past decade. NBA players are healthier than ever and better than ever.
Second, the NBA needs healthy players. Increased availability and access to biometric data mean teams now have a better understanding of what players need rest and when. Rest comes prior to injury, not following. And numerous medical studies show that cutting activity is not the same as taking a day off. Physiologically, a days rest is healthy and sometimes necessary.
Third, it may be unfair to fans if they are forced to miss LeBron James or Steph Curry. But nobody is making them go to games. They get no guarantee. What if James plays and is hurt in the first minute of the game, missing the remaining 47 minutes? Is that really different? Plus, on Seat Geek you can get a ticket for Warriors vs. Cavs on March 29th for $74. Not a pittance, but reasonable.
Finally, the NBA is understandably concerned with the business side of this practice. Resting stars means lower television ratings. Lower television ratings means fewer advertising dollars. Fewer advertising dollars means less money for the network to purchase NBA rights. Which means less money for the NBA. Except teams have been resting players for years, ratings are up, and the league just signed a record TV deal a year ago.
The NBA can worry about its business partners, the fans, and perception of the league, but these troubles ring hollow. The league is healthier than it has ever been because the product is as good as it has ever been. The “solution” to this rest problem is apparently to change the product?
Coaches and players want to win. Fans want them to win. Winning creates revenue. Rest helps them win.
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