By Ken Reed

The growing practice of resting star players in the NBA is becoming a major public relations crisis for the league. It might also turn into a financial crisis for league owners if television broadcasters and sponsors continue to see healthy stars sitting on the bench instead of playing on the floor.

From the fans’ perspective, here’s the deal: Fans pay big dollars to see the best teams and the best players play. In some cases, visiting teams only come to their cities one time per season. Tickets are often purchased months in advance. Injuries are part of the game and fans understand the risk of buying tickets and then finding out the star player they wanted to see is injured. But watching healthy players sit on the bench in street clothes because they or their coach decided they needed a rest is a different matter altogether. Moreover, the situation is compounded when coaches like Gregg Popovich and Steve Kerr decide to rest three or four starters at once.

There’s something that just stinks about a family of four spending a couple hundred bucks on tickets — three months in advance — to see the Golden State Warriors play, and then going to the game, sitting down in their seats with popcorn and drink in hand, and discovering Steph Curry, Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green are sitting on the bench in street clothes.

NBA commissioner Adam Silver recognizes the problem and has said it will be a major topic of discussion at the league’s Board of Governors meeting in New York on April 6th.

“Decisions of this kind do not merely implicate issues of player health and team performance on the court,” said Silver in a memo to league owners. “They also can affect fans and business partners, impact our reputation, and damage the perception of our game.”

Yes, indeed.

Popovich, the San Antonio Spurs’ coach, acknowledges the issue but says there are bigger considerations than just a single game.

Popovich said:

“the league has to understand that the science of what we do is a whole lot more sophisticated than it used to be, and we have definitely added years to people. So, it’s a tradeoff: Do you want to see this guy in this one game or do you want to see them for three more years of his career? And do you want to see him through the playoffs because he didn’t get hurt?”

That said, Popovich empathizes with the average fan. He said he appreciates the frustration of families that “save their money and bring their child and then all of a sudden so and so is not there. That is a tough one.”

And one that needs to be effectively addressed by the league before next season.

Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans


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