The NBA: We Rest Our Case

by John Furgele (The Authentic 228)

The issue of rest is the plague of the NBA these days. And, like wildfire, it has spread through the networks, providing the fodder that the unimaginative sports talkers need to fuel their shows.

What can be done is the cry? Should the NBA try their best to eliminate the dreaded back-to-backs that the million dollar players can’t seem to perform and participate in? The funny thing is that in the 1970s, 80s and 90s, the Slick Watts’, Jack Sikmas and Kevin Johnsons’ of the basketball world seemed to be just fine, and they played for much less than the $30 million that LeBron James and others are playing for now.

Yes, there is science that is available today that was not around 20 to 40 years ago. Rest is important, travel affects the body and nutrition is a priority. In reading The Game by Ken Dryden, the Hall of Fame goalie talks of drinking cokes after games and practices, something that would never be done by today’s athletes.

When you play 82 games over six months, that’s 13.6 games per month on average. In the perfect world, there would be no back-to-backs, but NBA arenas are often shared with NHL teams, minor league teams, rodeos and tractor pulls as well as concerts, preachers, home shows and the like. Bon Jovi doesn’t want to play back-to-backs either, but if the arena is available Wednesday and Thursday, but not Friday, the Jersey rocker will have to go back-to-back.

The funny thing is that you don’t hear NHL players resting like their NBA counterparts despite the fact that both leagues play 82 games.  Why is that? Is the NHL player in better shape than the NBA player? Are they more dedicated to playing than their NBA counterparts? I don’t think so, but the NHL does something that the NBA does not—they start their season earlier.

The Buffalo Sabres started the 2016-2017 season on October 13. They will play 82 games over 178 days while the New York Knicks began their season on October 25 and will end on April 12. That’s 82 games over 169 days. Sure, it’s only a difference of nine days, but it is an issue. In truth, why can’t both leagues start their seasons in the first week of October and run through late April? It might not seem like a lot, but adding 30 days to the NBA and even 10 to 12 more days to the NHL certainly can’t hurt, can it?

The winter seasons are long–too long. We all know that, and because of the 82 game regular season, interest at a national level wanes. Yes, the Penguin fan living in Pittsburgh is going to watch as many of their games as they can, but the hockey fan in Milwaukee? They will jump in and out all year long, because 82 games is simply too much. Ideally, both leagues would play 60 games, but that will never happen. The 82 game schedules serve their purpose by keeping people employed, arenas filled, players paid and so on. So, cries of shortening the season are meaningless, because it’s never going to happen.

Lengthening the season calendar-wise is also risky. The season is long enough critics and fans say, so now you’re going to add to it?   But, if making the season longer ensures that the Currys, James, and Leonards will play more because they’re getting more rest has to be a positive for the league.

Fining teams isn’t going to work and neither is requiring them to play in the showcase games such as ABC Saturdays or TNT Thursdays. Coaches have a right to play and rest whomever they want. Their job is to win games and keep their owners happy and themselves employed. When a person buys a ticket to a game, there is no guarantee that all the players can and will play. Requiring teams to submit a doctor’s note proclaiming a real injury is also an example of living in Fantasyland.

Baseball teams give their players rest. In the old days, if you went to game on a Sunday, chances are you saw the “Sunday lineup,” which featured the backup catcher, backup infielders fourth outfielders. Ticket buyers knew this was the case and for the most part they accepted it. It is different in the NBA and NHL, but should it be? If Dusty Baker can rest Bryce Harper, why can’t Tyronn Lue rest LeBron James?

We all wish the players would be less self-absorbed; we would love to hear James say that he is playing in Milwaukee because this is the only time that Bucks fans will see me and my Cavs play, but due to that self-absorption, it isn’t going to happen.   The schedules, and now, the rest days are made in advance with the doctors and scientists. They study the body, the calendar and the cycle and if the best day to rest James is Saturday, March 25 against the Celtics, then he will be rested; ABC be damned.

The NBA has a soap opera quality to it and its image could use some improving.  For some reason, the rest thing comes up in the NBA, but not so much in the NFL, MLB, NHL and even Major League Soccer. And, before dismissing soccer, let it be known that no athlete gets less rest than the soccer player.  MLS begins in March and runs until December with only January and February as a break.  Furthermore, in addition to the 34 MLS games , players play in friendlies, cup competitions and other games.  A 44-week season for the soccer star, yet the NBA players struggle to play 82 games over 26 weeks.   The European leagues start in August and end in May, leaving only June and July free.  So, what gives with the NBA players?

There is no tangible solution. Imposing sanctions and rules set by the league will be met with resistance. In fact, the owners will likely defy Commissioner Silver because they don’t want to see their stars get hurt. The first step is to start the season on October 5 and end it April 25.   More days means more days off, more rest, less back-to-backs and less four games in five days. It seems simple, but as we know, nothing is as easy as it seems.




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