Last Thursday, San Antonio Spurs head coach, Gregg Popovich, made the decision to send his top four players home instead of to Miami to play the defending champion, Miami Heat in a nationally televised game. By doing so, Popovich allowed his aging stars to rest and end their six-game road trip early.
From a coaching standpoint, it makes complete sense. Not even a fourth of the way through the grueling 82 game NBA season, last year’s coach of the year made the strategic decision to risk a loss in order to replenish the health and energy of his top players.
The players who were sent home were Tony Parker, who is 30, Manu Ginóbili, 35, Tim Duncan, 36 and Danny Green, 25. In addition, the Spurs were already without their fifth and sixth best players due to injury.
So, here come the Spurs without their best six players and coming off of five straight road games. Everyone thought it would be a blow out including NBA commissioner, David Stern, who said before the game, “This was an unacceptable decision by the San Antonio Spurs and substantial sanctions will be forthcoming.”
The result: the Spurs were leading by one point until Ray Allen of the Miami Heat hit a three-point shot with 22 seconds remaining. The Heat would end up holding on to a narrow 105-100 win. Stars or not, the Spurs came to play and nearly pulled off a major upset on national television.
However, Stern didn’t see it quite like that. In fact, he went on to fine the Spurs $250,000 shortly after, saying that they did a “disservice to the league and our fans.” This raises the overarching question of if professional sports are meant to be entertainment, or are they truly about the sport.
There is no doubt what sides Popovich and Stern are taking. However, it leaves a much bigger question unanswered for the role of sports. Do fans watch and attend games for the purpose of entertainment, or do they do it because they love the game and the competitive spirit? It also relates to the players. Are they playing because they love the game, or is it just for the money?
Obviously professional sports is a business. However, at some point, a line must be drawn which separates the world’s best athletes from entertainers. The role of a professional athlete is not to entertain, rather it is to compete and reach the ultimate goal of a championship. That is exactly what coach Popovich had in mind.
In the end, the fact that the Spurs were fined in an attempt to give themselves the best chance to make a run in the playoffs is ridiculous. It’s just evidence that professional sports leagues care more about the money, instead of their players health and the game itself.
The last thing I will leave in your mind is this; would you rather watch the Heat play the Spurs back-ups now, or would you prefer to watch them play in the championship while Parker, Ginóbili, Duncan and Green are sidelined with injuries?