The absurdity of the NBA’s fine of the San Antonio Spurs

David Stern set a dangerous precedent when he decided to fine the Spurs $250,000 for resting their four best players in a game against the Miami Heat. Photo: San Antonio's Tim Duncan and Tony Parker sit along Manu Ginobili & Danny Green / AP File

CHICAGO, December 7, 2012 – David Stern has not proven himself to be a competent commissioner in the past few years, with gaffes varying from vetoing a Chris Paul trade to allowing a new owner to carjack Seattle’s team. However, he might have just made his worst mistake when he decided to fine the San Antonio Spurs $250,000 for deciding against playing Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker and Danny Green against the Miami Heat.

First, it’s important to understand the context in which Spurs coach Greg Popovich’s decision was made. The Spurs were about to play their fourth road game in five days, and three of the four players they decided to sit are in the twilights of their careers.

Popovich wasn’t trying to anger anyone, he only wanted to be prepared for their next home game against the division rival Memphis Grizzlies.

Not that David Stern cared, of course. All he saw was the potentially lower ratings the game would bring in, the decrease in revenue for the league, and he was furious, calling the decision an injustice for the fans.

However, this exact phenomenon has been going on since the start of the lottery-based draft, and not one thing has been done to stop it.

Does anyone remember how the Cavaliers got LeBron James? The season before, they threw out as many of their games as possible to get a better chance at drafting the star. Not only did they sacrifice more than one game, they sacrificed a chunk of their season for a chance to get better.

Now the Cavaliers were the fortunate ones; their plan worked for them. Every year, there are several teams that aren’t so fortunate. Whispers of tanking go through Golden State seemingly almost every year, and the Wizards, Raptors and Nets all seemingly struck out in the sweepstakes last season alone. But if you’re David Stern, of course you’re fine watching the Wizards suck air for the last half of the season in order to gain the right to draft the amoebic Bradley Beal.

Now, going back to Popovich and the Spurs, why is giving up one game for a guaranteed benefit worse than giving up an entire season for a chance for a benefit? If you’re going to fine teams for intentionally lowering their quality of play, then fine, but you could at least do it on a consistent basis. By March every year, there are always at least ten teams that have mailed it in and are hoping to lose as much as possible to help their lottery odds.

Unless there’s a fix in the draft system, David Stearn is either going to need to apologize for the Spurs for this insanely hypocritical fine, start handing out eight-figure fines to teams that aren’t trying for months on end, or finally just confess that the NBA is more about revenue than the safety/well-being of its players.

That’s the only way Stern can justify fining the Spurs for resting three guys whose combined age is 101 years old.


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Nicholas Goralka

Nick Goralka is a sports enthusiast with eclectic interests. In addition to cheering on and suffering along with his Chicago teams, Nick is a competitively-ranked tennis player, enjoys debating real versus imaginary numbers in mathematical functions, and is a trumpet soloist in his Jazz ensemble which has performed throughout Chicago and for Mayor Rahm Emmanuel and Vice President Joe Biden at a recent charity fundraiser.  

Nick is still in high school, steadily working his way through his Statistics class, and learning more and more every day about analyzing the sports that he loves.

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