Someone asked me how my blog and newspaper column came to be titled "Bleachers Brew". It's like this, it's an amalgam of sorts of two things: The bleachers area in the stadium/arena where I used to sit when I would watch baseball, football, and basketball games and Miles Davis' great jazz album Bitches Brew. That's how it got culled together. I originally planned on calling it "The View from the Big Chair" that is a nod to Tears For Fear's second album, Songs from the Big Chair. So there.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Popovich & the Zen of $250K

This appears in

Popovich & the Zen of $250K
by rick olivares

When I think of the NBA fining the San Antonio Spurs for resting four of their players in their recent match against the Miami Heat (yes, it still is an issue given that talk has come up if Gregg Popovich will land the USA basketball head coaching job because of this), I tell myself that the league is dangerous ground in this matter.

The NBA’s coffers might be $250,000 richer but the San Antonio Spurs will be 100% tougher.

I understand that the league needs to put its best product out there every night but in many ways, I think that has not always been the case.

We’ve seen teams routinely sit down their stars towards the end of the grind of the regular season. To use the league’s argument, the fans come to watch the stars.

Remember the 2007 incident also involving the Spurs, the Phoenix Suns saw two of its players in Amare Stoudemire and Boris Diaw suspended by the league for leaving the bench during an altercation. Following a flagrant foul by San Antonio’s Robert Horry on Phoenix’ Steve Nash, the two stood up in the direction of the incident but went no further. While they were physically not involved in the near fight that broke out, Stoudemire and Diaw were suspended the next match that allowed San Antonio to take a crucial 3-2 series lead in this Western semifinals series.

As then-Phoenix head coach Mike D’Antoni said after the suspension, “We have the most powerful microscopes and telescopes in the world in Arizona, [and] you could use those instruments and not find a shred of fairness or common sense in that decision. That's kind of how it feels. It really benefits no one. It doesn't benefit us, obviously. It doesn't benefit the Spurs. It doesn't benefit the fans. It doesn't benefit the NBA."

I believe that Popovich had this Zen moment where he sent more of a statement to the league about the scheduling but also to his team. Sure the Memphis Grizzlies are conference rivals but isn’t playing the defending champions more of a barometer of how good your team is that an unproven contender?

But the scheduling? We have seen how unkind it has been since the last season when top stars from Derrick Rose to Al Horford to Ricky Rubio all the way to Dwight Howard went down one after the other due to injuries.

The schedule that Popovich referred to is unfair and does not help the Spurs. By the same token, Miami was on extended vacation around the same time. What gives?

There is a rule about how NBA players should not leave the bench but they merely stood up and took only a few steps. Sure there is the rule but was the ruling just?

And where in the rulebook does it say that a coach has to play all his best players?

How different is it when a coach sits a player for disciplinary reasons or he is about to be traded?

In other North American sports leagues such as Major League Baseball or the National Football League you see manager’s rest some of their star players. “Give them the day off” is the term for it. In soccer, managers regularly save some of their top players for a second fixture in a week and depending on they need to play as well as their conditioning.

Let’s keep it to the NBA, you might say and so let’s go back.

There was an incident in 2006 when the Philadelphia 76ers did not field Allen Iverson and Chris Webber arrived late for their final home match of the regular season. Why did the league turn a blind eye to this? Was it because the team disciplined the players? But they arrived right before tip-off. And I am sure that many people went to the match hoping to see Iverson and Webber.

There’s more. We’ve seen players skip the All-Star Game on the pretext of an injury but were elsewhere. I can understand that. But I don’t think that teams should be fined for basketball-based decisions.

When “restgate” blew up, I also thought of the time when the NBA fined Nike for every game Michael Jordan wore his red and black Air Jordans (the league said that there should be some white in the shoe color scheme). The NBA fined Nike $5,000 for every game that Jordan wore the shoe. In the end, the banned shoe was probably the biggest sales tool that Nike received because it soon turned into a runaway best seller.

The fact that even without their top players, the Spurs battled the Miami Heat to a standstill also says a lot. The Spurs didn’t march into Miami to lose? They went there to win. They came up short but the bench felt good about themselves after nearly stealing a W on the road. That and trust in their coach and vice versa. It says that the coach has their back and they’ve got his.

The San Antonio Spurs were fined a stiff $250,000 dollars for “restgate” but that might be a little price to pay as Pop gained the respect of his players (not that he doesn’t have it yet) that cultivates an us-against-the-league mentality that will beget a killer instinct. And my guess is that Popovich hopes that this will serve his team in the long run and much farther than the grind that is the NBA season. 

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