If ESPN were smart, it would demand a refund.
Another big NBA game, another no-show of stars for the broadcast.
NBA America was salivating for a marquee matchup — the Brooklyn Nets at the Philadelphia 76ers. Both teams entered the game with the same record (37-17). Both squads were tied for first place in the Atlantic Division.
But instead of a possible Eastern Conference finals preview, fans got a cut-rate, meaningless ballgame because the Nets sat most of their stars.
While the 76ers were at full strength, the Nets’ Kevin Durant and Blake Griffin sat out with so-called injuries.
Most would call them phony or made-up. But since most fans aren’t doctors, it’s impossible to say or prove it.
Plus, James Harden was still sidelined with his legit right hamstring strain.
That basically left the Nets’ star guard Kyrie Irving to try and beat the Sixers all by himself. It wasn’t happening. And while the Nets mop-up crew made the score respectable in the fourth quarter, they weren’t going to beat Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons and crew. Philly won,123-117.
If that wasn’t bad enough, then the news came out that the Los Angeles Clippers were going to do the same thing in their game against the Detroit Pistons in Motown.
The Clippers sat four key players — Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, Serge Ibaka and Patrick Beverly.
The Pistons are so bad that the starless Clippers won anyway, 100-98.
This is the NBA at its worst.
Players not playing just isn’t cool. It’s a bad look that NBA commissioner Adam Silver has allowed this to continue. Fans have a right to be turned off by it.
And all the blame should be planted at the feet of San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich.
After all, Pop started this mess. He used to sit Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili for random games during the season.
In 2012, Pop was fined $250,000 for sending Duncan, Parker, Ginobili, and Danny Green home instead of playing them in a big national TV game against LeBron James and the Miami Heat.
It was a damn shame.
And once LeBron embraced it, other stars thought it was OK to miss games. Like most sports leagues, the NBA is a copycat league.
Players figured if it’s OK for James — considered the best player in the league at that time — to sit out games for rest, not injuries, why shouldn’t they, too?
They call it “Load Management.”
It’s hard to be sympathetic to players who are healthy and don’t want to play. I bet they would play every game if they didn’t get paid for games that they rested.
And for those who suggest that players simply play reduced minutes on games they don’t really want to play in, players want no part of that.
If they did that, their game statistics average would drop big time. They are conscious of that, but not that it isn’t fair or right to the fans — watching at home or pre-COVID-19 at the arena — or the networks that pay millions and millions of dollars to broadcast the games on TV.
We saw Leonard do it often after leaving the Spurs. He sat out more than 20 games when the Toronto Raptors won the championship in 2019.
Last season, Leonard played in 57 of the Clippers’ 72 games.
For sure, Leonard has had injury issues, but others have followed in his footsteps.
And it’s the fans who suffer, are disappointed and complain on social media about feeling robbed. Fans aren’t wrong for feeling that way.
The rest of the program going on in the NBA borders on consumer fraud.
Fans should be able to get a refund if the star player they paid top dollar to see doesn’t play because of rest and not an injury.
If a player is honestly hurt, fans understand that. It’s a part of the game.
And sometimes, a fan will have bad luck and won’t be able to see their favorite player.
For the last year and a half, the NBA has been able to get away with this shaky business practice because fans weren’t able to attend games because of COVID-19.
But once fans start filling arenas again around the country, it’s hard to imagine this will be allowed to continue.
At least at home, you can simply change the channel.