NBA Players and Rest

By John Bernardo
Mar. 23, 2017


NBA: Cleveland Cavaliers at Denver Nuggets

Do NBA players need to rest? Is the league getting soft?

Last week, LeBron James was sat against his will on a nationally televised game against the Los Angeles Clippers. The Clippers subsequently blew out the undermanned LeBron-less Cleveland Cavaliers. The Cavs were also resting Kyrie Irving due to knee tightness, as well as Kevin Love, whom is coming back from a knee injury. So with two of the big three out, Cleveland rested LeBron James because they didn't want him to have too big of a load.

Resting players is an issue for the National Basketball Association. The NBA can redesign the schedule, cut down on back to backs, cut down on four games in five nights, they can reduce travel through more efficient computer algorithms, and they can cut back on preseason games. Still, players will need to rest.

The season is long as it is hard. 82 games is no joke. NBA players run, jump, cut, elbow, bump, butt, sweat, and more. A two and a half hour game of sweating, shouldering, jumping, and landing awkwardly can be followed by a four hour cross country flight into a another time zone, with varying degrees of sleeplessness.

While players are playing, anything can happen. Elbow to the head; tightening up of a hamstring while running in transition; jumping up for a rebound and landing on someone else's foot; banging knees; falling down; dehydration; cramping. There's myriad ways for a player to get hurt. Rest is an important part of keeping a player healthy. This is not the NFL. It's not lay it on line every single game. The NFL has 16 games. The NBA 82.

In the NFL, contracts are not always guaranteed. In the NBA, they are. So why would a player play through a tight hamstring when their contracts are guaranteed?

I don't blame the players and I don't blame the medical staff either. The medical staff is going to be judged based on their ability to keep the players healthy. The medical staff is getting paid by the owner of the team for which they work. Why should they tell a player he's ok to play, when in reality, if he doesn't rest that player may re-aggravate an existing injury and now the player has to rehab for another week, as opposed to sitting out this next game. I'm sorry that this next game happens to be nationally televised. It is what it is.

As for the players, they're going to listen to the medical staff. A player's body is a player's company. What I mean is if these guys get paid to play basketball. If their body isn't right, if they turn a sore knee into a a torn ACL, they're out for a year. That loss of a year of production will directly translate into their next contract. They'll have lost money because they played for one nationally televised game in which they should have rested. No, the players need to listen to the medical staff. The players are not paid to play in nationally televised games. Their paid to play for their team(s).

But resting is a problem. Let's say you and your girlfriend went to see the Clippers play the Cavaliers last week. Most people don't go to too many NBA games. Most people don't live within walking distance to an NBA stadium. So you drive an hour to get to the arena . We'll assume gas is $5 there, $5 back. Parking is $30. You wait in traffic, get to the arena and settle in. You splurge on a couple adult beverages because you don't do this kind of thing often. Each beverage is $10 a piece, plus, nachos, an extra $8. Now, tickets.

A mid level ticket for the Los Angeles Clippers is $160. If you buy the tickets from somewhere like TicketMaster, there's an extra $20 for fees. So $180 a ticket, 2x. So for tickets, two drinks, parking, gas/traffic, and food for two people you're paying, $428 to go to a game.

Now I understand it's LA. I understand a ticket to see the Clippers play the Cavaliers is going to cost more than a ticket in Milwaukee to see the Bucks play the Orlando Magic. Yeah, LA is expensive but everything is relative. People going to LA games probably earn more than people going to Bucks games. It's a higher cost of living area, if you live there you can probably afford it from time to time. Anyway.

You pay $428 for the game, you fight through traffic, you get herded through the arena like cattle to get to your seat, your wait in line at the bathrooms to take care of your bodily functions and what happens... You knew there was a chance Kyrie Irving (one of the most fun point guards to watch) is out of the game. You know Kevin Love is coming back from a knee injury so you were unsure if he would play. But you had LeBron. You came to see LeBron James, one of the most dominant players ever sqaure off against your Clippers on a Saturday night, nationally televised game. And then you hear a murmur through the crowd. LeBron is out to rest. You check it on your phone. You confirm it. You look down at your phone. You wonder if $428 was worth it. You shrug, say, fuck it, we're here already, might as well make the best of it. The Clippers ended up beating the Cavs 108-78. It was a blow out. Wouldn't you be mad that a perfectly healthy LeBron rested?

You did pay to come see him. You paid for a product which was advertised to be something it wasn't. You shake your fist in the air at LeBron, the Cavs, and the NBA. But what can you do?

You never know. With LeBron out there without Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving LeBron could have tried to carry the team for 48 minutes and strained his back. What if this was the game in which LeBron pulled a muscle in his back and he's out for the next two weeks? What if the medical staff gave in to pressure and sent Irving out there only for Irving to worsen his knee injury? Now instead of missing one game (albeit nationally televised) Irving misses five? Is the NBA going to award Cleveland a bonus for playing Kyrie through injury? Will they gift the Cavs freebie wins because they would've won the game if the now injured Kyrie was playing? This is a complex problem. The solution will need to be equally complex.