The NBA world is abuzz over the memo that Commissioner Adam Silver sent to team owners recently, warning them of significant fines for resting healthy players. All of a sudden, this is a big issue in the league, even though it's been going on for years.
In fact, way back in 1990, the Los Angeles Lakers were fined what was then the healthy sum of $25,000 for not using healthy stars Magic Johnson and James Worthy in Portland for a season-ending game. And Laker Coach Pat Riley was very indignant about the fine, which was levied by then-commissioner David Stern:
"I'm sort of beside myself on this," Riley said. "Obviously, a new rule has been made, a new precedent set. I didn't do it out of disregard for the league. I did it for the well-being of our players. They do it (rest starters in meaningless games) in other sports."
You can go way back to 1985 and find healthy players being rested and teams being fined for it. Riley's argument is being made these days, of course. And it's hard to argue with it. I've heard all sorts of solutions for this problem but not many of them will solve it. The one getting the most traction is that teams need to give a few days' notice when they're sitting players out. But I find that inadequate simply because so many tickets to most teams' games are sold way in advance, including season tickets.
The best solution I could offer -- and I'm open to reasonable suggestions -- is to make teams sit healthy players out of home games. That way, they're at least not depriving fans of a chance to see stars who make just one appearance a season in their town. Make your own fans unhappy, rather than those of other teams.
I also think it's reasonable for coaches to cut back on some of their players' minutes, rather than have them miss games, or not sit all of their best players down on the same night. I've heard other ideas -- such as dock players' checks for the games they miss while healthy, but I don't think that will work because you'd just see a whole lot of trumped-up injuries or illnesses as an excuse for sitting down. "Flu-like symptoms" would become all the rage. I do sympathize with fans, though. Ticket prices are through the roof and teams often use "dynamic pricing" or variable pricing during a season -- meaning the cost of seeing the best teams and the true superstars is higher than for other games.
And what really irks me is that certain players see these rest days as proof they are stars. A few misguided players, I've been told, believe it to be a status symbol.
But when those big-time players -- the drawing cards -- don't show up on the floor for the game, fans are being ripped off -- just as Portland President Harry Glickman said way back in '90:
"I think (Riley) cheated the fans," Glickman said. "I think it (the fine) was a very appropriate action for the commissioner to take. I felt all along the commissioner would take some kind of action.
"I hope that it sends a message to the Lakers and to all of us that you don't do those kinds of things."