The Argument in Favor of Rest
To rest, or not to rest, that is the question.
The current NBA hot topic revolves around teams resting their star players during the regular season. It seems that this topic comes up at some point each year but this season, thanks in part to commissioner Sterling getting involved, the issue seems much bigger.
NBA fans, analysts and personnel alike are getting in on what is turning out to be a very polarizing conversation. There are two sides to the argument after all, each fairly based on its on merit.
Those against players resting believe that it is unfair to the fans and broadcasters, that they are paid to appear in 82 games, former players didn’t rest, and ultimately there really is no need for it. These are all rather fair points except for one thing…
They are all incorrect.
At first, any anti-rest reader will be infuriated by reading that remark. However, if I can hold your attention enough to have you read through the entire article, I will point-by-point take you through my position. Perhaps, I might even be able to change your opinion on the matter!
So, without further ado, let’s take a look at why NBA teams SHOULD rest their star players…
Myth #1: NBA players don’t need rest/Regular people aren’t allowed “rest-days”
Yes, even though some people might believe that NBA players are super-human and made of iron, they do actually need rest. The schedule of an NBA star-talent is jam-packed to say the least. For starters there is, on average, 3 games per week for each team. On game days players generally arrive at the arena early for a morning-shootaround, then go in for treatment, then have pre-game shootaround and then play the game. If they are on a road trip, generally they jump on a plane that night and fly to the location of their next game (which may or may not be the following night).
On their off days (which, for the most part, account for every other day during the season) their days can include practices, walk-throughs, film sessions, private/individual workouts, team meetings and other team obligations such as charity events and appearances – some of which are demanded by the league office.
All-in-all NBA players are putting far more work than your average 40 hour work week.
Some people make the argument, that we regular folk don’t get rest days from our own job, which is also not true. After all most of us don’t work on weekends – that’s two rest days per week. The vast majority of us do not work 8 hours a day Monday-Sunday. NBA players don’t get their weekends off and in a lot of cases, they don’t even get holidays off as we expect them to suit up for Christmas, Thanksgiving and New Year.
Furthermore, when you take into the fact that the most common injuries to NBA players are all easily attributable to fatigue, it’s easier to see why some heavy-minute players require rest now and then. Ankle sprains, lumbar strains, hamstring strain and groin strains are the 4 most frequent injuries in the league and the likelihood of suffering one of these injuries increases significantly when a player is fatigued.
If resting players 3 or 4 games a season means reducing their chances of missing 7 or 8 games with ankle sprain, it becomes an easy decision to make for the coaching staff. It’s all about measuring risk.
Myth #2: Former players didn’t need rest, the new generation is just soft
This is perhaps my favorite argument against rest and it is specifically raised when comparing LeBron James to Michael Jordan.
Kareem played in all 82 games 5 times. Michael Jordan played in all 82 games 9 times. Karl Malone played in all 82 games 10 times. John Stockton played in all 82 games 16 times. Moses Malone played 83 games one season!
To that I say good, good for them.
The fact remains, that this is a very small sample size. Former players may have appeared in 82 games each season, but it doesn’t necessarily mean they played more basketball. Below you can see how many former NBA stars actually missed more than 10% of their games due to injury. Keep in Mind Magic (HIV) and MJ (multiple retirements) are missing for obvious reasons.
Sure, there are guys like Malone and Stockton who managed to play long careers without taking time off, but for the majority, that just isn’t the case. Perhaps Larry Bird, Isiah Thomas or Charles Barkleys’ career could have been extended by a few seasons had they taken 3 or 4 rest games a season.
The underlying reason for all of today’s rest-days is to prevent these injuries and prolong players’ careers, and it’s proven to work. For all of the criticism surrounding LeBron James’ rest days he has only missed 6% of all playable games in his career and that’s including games he has missed due to injury. Tim Duncan experienced similar success at staying on the court during his career.
The technology used to identify injury or even identify the risk of injury has improved tremendously since the 1990s. Wear and tear can be detected much earlier. This means players can rest before an injury occurs, which limits the number of injuries players experience, which in the long run lengthens the average NBA career.
Myth #3: It’s not fair to the broadcasting companies who pay to show the games
In 2014, the NBA announced a new 9 year, $24 billion TV deal with ESPN and Turner Sports - ESPN will pay $1.4 billion per year and Turner Sports will pay the other $1.2 billion. So these companies are definitely shelling out megabucks to broadcast these games. With that being said, where do you think these broadcasters get this money from?
ESPN alone, which is the most expensive cable channel in America, generates approximately $7.3 billion per year from their 92 million cable subscriptions alone. Let’s assume that only 10% of that revenue came strictly from NBA fans – that’s still $730 million. Add to the fact that last season the NBA regular season generated around $350 million in ad revenue and the NBA playoffs generated another $1.03 billion.
That in total for the 2016 NBA season is approximately $2.1 billion, almost $700 million dollars more than what they paid for the TV rights.
So is LeBron James missing 5 regular season games really unfair to ESPN and Turner when he helps generate so much money for them in a season? If LeBron played 82 games and then missed the playoffs due to an injury, would that somehow help increase their ad revenue?
The fact of the matter is this: if LeBron plays a few less regular season games to maintain his body, it ultimately means more money for the broadcasters in the long run.
Myth #4: It’s not fair to the NBA fans
This is likely the best reason for NBA stars to avoid rest days. If it weren’t for the fans, NBA players would be out of a job, period. The fans buy merchandise, pay for the tickets and subscribe to the television networks.
With that being said, is taking a few rest days during the season really cheating the fans?
I don’t think it is – here’s why.
Let’s say the Cleveland Cavaliers are playing a road game in Sacramento. It’s the first game of a back-to-back and the following night the team will be travelling to LA to take on the Lakers and for argument sake, let’s say this is a late January game being broadcast on TNT. If LeBron and Kyrie rest in this game they are absolutely letting down every single fan that bought a ticket to come to that game. Furthermore, they’re letting down every NBA fan that tunes in to TNT to watch the Kings vs the Cavaliers. Anyone feeling upset or let down by this is totally within their right to feel that way.
Now consider an alternate scenario. In that same game, LeBron and Kyrie actually play. The Fans in Sacramento are happy, as are the fans watching from home. However, in the dying seconds of the 3rd quarter Kyrie Irving is fouled hard in the midst of a lay-up attempt. He hits the floor hard and twists his knee. He is forced to miss the fourth quarter of the game the next day the team’s medical staff announces that Kyrie will miss the next 4 weeks with a sprained MCL. Kyrie misses the next 15 games due to injury including 7 road games, 8 home games and 6 nationally televised games.
You see, it’s all about give and take.
Yes, it’s awful luck to buy a ticket and find out your favorite player isn’t going to be playing that night. But at the end of the day that is just how life works.
These teams have to make sure that they get the absolute most out of their players. The Cavs are paying LeBron James $100 million over 3 seasons. That is a lot of money invested in one player, and if he were to suffer a major injury it would be a huge waste of money, so do you blame them for taking a cautious approach to his health?
It’s like the brand new pair of Air Jordans you bought last month. You went out and spent $300 on them, which is admittedly a lot of money for a pair of shoes. Since they were so expensive, you don’t wear them every day. Some days, maybe when the weather is bad, you wear a different pair because you don’t want to get them muddy or scuff them up. You’re protecting your investment. The same logic applies to the NBA’s elite.
If Stephen Curry plays 82 games each year but his career lasts 10 seasons, fans in Brooklyn will have exactly 10 chances to watch him play. If he plays for 18 seasons and rests for 4 games in Brooklyn throughout his career, those same fans have 14 opportunities to see him play. Will some people miss their one and only opportunity to see him? Yes, but ultimately he will be on the floor for longer which increases the overall probability that he will be on the court when the Warriors come to your home town.
At the end of the day these NBA teams have the same goal as the fans (which happens to be the same goal as the league) – to get as much basketball out of these players as they possibly can before they retire.