Sunday, December 2, 2012

David Stern Doesn't Understand Basic Exercise Science

In a controversial, dunder-headed move, NBA Commissioner David Stern imposed a $250,000 fine on the San Antonio Spurs for resting four of its five starters against the Miami Heat last week. Spurs' coach Gregg Popovich, one of basketball's sharpest minds (I'll take him over Phil Jackson), made the decision to give his better players the night off because it was their fourth game in five nights.

Stern claimed the sanctions were imposed because the team had not informed the league ahead of time of the "one-day vacation" the players were going to take, although no such onus is placed on Coach Pop or the Spurs by NBA rules. In truth, the move rankled Stern because it was a marquee match-up between two high-caliber teams who might be meeting in the NBA finals this season, so obviously the game was nationally televised.

There are many layers to this which I won't go into here, but Pop's decision was sound. You see this in other sports frequently, especially in baseball, and basketball should be no different. In fact, the wear and tear athletes face on a basketball court is just as bad, and probably worse, than that endured on a baseball diamond, even though the MLB season is 162 games compared to the NBA's 82. Factor in that the Spurs are an old team compared to most of the other title contenders, and Pop's decision is all the smarter.

Many are clamoring that Pop should have just rested his guys during the last two weeks leading up to the playoffs, presumably when they had their playoff berth locked. And Stern's choice of words in his sanction, referring to the fact that this was an early-season game, reflects this myopic thinking.

I'm no physiologist but I've run two marathons and another middle distance race so I've paid attention to what the sports scientists are saying. You rest before you're tired. You hydrate before you're thirsty. With such a long, grueling season, the NBA athlete's body will break down, it's only a question of when. If you rest your guys early, you stave off that breakdown. Waiting till the last two weeks of the season to do it is useless. Most athletes will be beyond the point of no return by then and missing four or five games won't be a difference-maker. Ignore the principle of rest-early and you increase the risk of injury. It's that simple and any high school trainer will tell you this and yet Stern, the man in charge of a multi-million (billion?) sports business, does not.

Stern is peeved because it was a nationally-televised game and Pop's move probably hurt viewership. But Stern's thinking and punishment were short-sided--the healthier the Spurs are, the better they will be in the playoffs. And that will maximize ratings for Stern.

Never mind the fact that the Spurs almost won the game against the Heat anyway, or that Pop wanted his best guys hale for their upcoming match-up with their Western conference challengers, the Memphis Grizzlies, a much more important outcome for the Spurs come playoff-time.

Some have argued that Pop should have rested two guys one night, then two guys the next. But that's statistically nonsensical. Why increase your chances of losing two games as opposed to just one?

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