by Ken Reed

There’s an anti-fan trend in the NBA that is unfortunately escalating.

It was started by the San Antonio Spurs’ Gregg Popovich. Basically, Popovich picks multiple games every season when he decides to not compete by resting several of his top players. The idea, presumably, is to keep his veteran stars fresh for the playoffs, the only season that really matters in the NBA.

Today, several other NBA coaches of teams in the playoffs are doing the same thing. Who gets hurt? The fans, of course, many of whom have spent several hundred dollars to see a particular team and its stars play.

Last Friday, Steve Kerr, coach of the Golden State Warriors, the team with the best record in the NBA at the time, decided to play the Denver Nuggets in Denver without star guards Steph Curry and Klay Thompson (known to adoring fans as The Splash Brothers), starting center Andrew Bogut and swingman and former USA Olympian Andre Igoudala. They were all benched as healthy scratches. Also, the Warriors played without Bogut’s backup, Marcus Speights, who was sitting out a one-game suspension from the league office for pleading no contest to a reckless driving charge.

Meanwhile, the Pepsi Center in Denver was packed with fans — hundreds of them wearing Golden State Warriors hats, shirts and sweatshirts — who came to watch the Warriors in their only Denver appearance of the season (The Nuggets certainly weren’t the draw, as they are one of the worst teams in the league this season). Numerous parents were interviewed during and after the game who said they had saved up to buy tickets for the game so their kids could see their favorite team or players in action, only to discover the Warriors were treating the game like a baseball split-squad spring training exhibition in Arizona or Florida.

It’s definitely a problem, one that the NBA needs to get a handle on sooner rather than later.

Kerr gets it but he insists his job is to look out for the best interests of his team, not the fans’. “It’s fair criticism,” he said.

“If I had bought tickets for my family, and I wanted to see Steph Curry play and he sat out, I’d be upset. I understand that, but I can’t base my team’s welfare on that. That’s one of the reasons why I do it on the road because we like to look after our own fans.

“I would like to look out for Denver’s fans, and everybody else’s fans, but the reality is for our team to prosper and for our team to be in the best shape going forward, Steph and Klay (Thompson) really needed a night off.”

If the 82-game season is too much for the players than reduce the schedule or spread out the games. Perhaps all back-to-back games could be eliminated. Former NBA player Shane Battier said a 60-game season would be perfect from a competition standpoint. Of course, that would mean less revenue. Dallas Mavericks’ owner Mark Cuban wants to extend the 82-game season to give players more rest between games. However, the league is already being criticized by reporters and fans for ending the season close to the 4th of July. NBA commissioner Adam Silver recognizes the problem and wants to come up with a solution that takes some strain off the players, doesn’t screw the fans, and of course, doesn’t significantly hamper league revenues.

At this point, however, he doesn’t have a solution to offer. That’s fine but it should be made a top priority. The integrity of the game is at stake when coaches decide to purposely tank games while fans are paying full price for tickets.

Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans


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