Philadelphia, PA – If you've paid money to see the Miami Heat lately, you've been plenty disappointed.
Head coach Erik Spoelstra has made the decision to rest Dwyane Wade and LeBron James quite a bit over the last few weeks. It coincided with the end of the most famous streak since Susan Lucci couldn't win a Daytime Emmy, but the Heat are catching some lip from some people.
There is no way to deny the paying consumer is getting diddled. They shell out major dollars for tickets, hot dogs, sodas, beers, maybe a T-shirt and parking.
A family of four spends roughly $300. That doesn't factor in if the home team charges a little more when the Heat or Los Angeles Lakers or New York Knicks come to town.
The reason you pay to see those teams is to see LeBron or Kobe Bryant or Tim Duncan or Kevin Durant. The NBA is a superstar-driven league and we can blame it for that because no league markets stars over teams like the NBA.
There is no expectation that a player will suit up or dress. It's entirely up to the coach's discretion.
Could James, Wade and any of the myriad of San Antonio Spurs players who have sat a bunch this season played if the game was meaningful? Of course, but that's not the point.
The only thing that matters in these situations is if the coach believes he is doing what is in the best interest of his team. Translation: Is resting a player going to freshen them up for the playoffs? If a coach thinks that is the case, what recourse is there?
Commissioner David Stern fined the Spurs organization $250,000 when head coach Gregg Popovich took the extra step of not just sitting Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and Danny Green in a Thursday night TNT game against the Heat, but flying them home that day, and commercial no less.
Popovich and the Spurs stuck a big old middle finger in the face of the NBA. The franchise was unhappy about scheduling and took this step, which was a purpose pitch.
Could the league forbid teams from flying players home the day of the game? Why not, but it's still costing the paying customer. That's who these benchings hurt most.
When kids don't get to see their superstars in action in person, it will hurt their idolization of them. Maybe they tell dad, "Don't bother next time." The league and the team just lost $200.
The $250,000 the league collected from the Spurs when they pulled that stunt in Miami, that was real cash. Yet, the Heat weren't fined when they sat James and Wade. Why? Well, the Heat studs didn't fly home. Perhaps that was the act that really set Stern off.
What's fascinating is that in the two games in which sitting of players has been highlighted - both Spurs vs. Heat games - the two undermanned teams went 1-1. The Spurs lost in Miami, but were competitive until the final seconds. The Chris Bosh-led Heat actually beat San Antonio in Texas.
So what's the argument? Competitive basketball took place, it just didn't have the stars competing.
Aren't fans supposed to cheer for the name on the front of the jersey, not the back? Again, no, they're not, not in the NBA, which doesn't market teams a little.
So, is there anything the NBA can do so that fans aren't hurt?
Not one tiny thing.
Telling coaches rules on when they can or can not sit players is dangerous. That kind of thinking doesn't allow for competitive fairness.
It's not like the Heat can announce James and Wade will sit four months in advance when tickets are being purchased.
And here's the argument Mr. and Mrs. Public don't want to hear: these teams owe us nothing.
The NBA is a business and coaches' jobs are kept and lost based on success. Spoelstra does not report to any fans. He reports to his superiors in the Heat organization. Spoelstra's job is to win titles and he clearly believes the best way to do that is to sit James (who is already playing again) and Wade (who acknowledged, he's probably out for the remainder of the regular season).
The Heat's owners pay Spoelstra's salary, not the fans. That is abstract thinking skewered by the fact the most owners are loaded because of TV deals, not ticket sales.
The Heat have earned the right to do what they want. They won homecourt in the Eastern Conference around Christmas, and, with one more victory, would clinch homecourt throughout the whole playoffs.
What is the upside then to playing the stars? It's not like a team that's been together like the Heat, or the Spurs, need more reps in mid-April to iron things out.
The Heat expanded a lot in the pursuit of history with that 27-game winning streak.
The Spurs are older than organized religion.
All that can happen is possibly injury. That risk is not worth playing stars.
Sorry that fans are getting shafted in this, but there is nothing that can be done.
Coaches are doing what they think is best. Won't you be happy when the coach's decision leads to a championship?