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Spurs Coach Under Fire For Sending Players Home


The NBA has slapped the San Antonio Spurs with a hefty fine: a quarter of a million dollars. Why? Well, here was the situation last night: The Spurs were playing their fourth game in five nights, their sixth road game in a row, their 11th road game in the month of November. The team was exhausted, and they were playing the league champion Heat in Miami. So Coach Gregg Popovich sent four of his players home rather than make the trip, among them: Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili. It's a little like saying, well, the Marx brothers are playing tonight, except for Groucho, Harpo and Chico.

As it turns out, Zeppo did pretty well in the end. The Spurs, minus their three stars, took Miami to the final minute and lost by just five points, 105-100. Even so, NBA commissioner David Stern saw it as a much bigger deal. By not playing those stars and not making a timely announcement about it, Stern said the Spurs did a disservice to the NBA and the fans.

Joining us to talk about it is Michael Rosenberg, senior writer with Sports Illustrated. And, Michael, Commissioner David Stern had promised substantial sanctions against the team. And indeed, they came: a quarter of a million dollars in fines. How did he explain that? What's the rationale?

MICHAEL ROSENBERG: Well, what's he's trying to say is that this goes against an NBA policy of doing what's in the best interest of the NBA and its competitive interest. The problem with that is that's never really been defined before. Nobody in the league thinks that there was really a rule that was violated. The NBA sort of reacted, came up with a penalty and then came up with a rationale for the penalty later. And it's sort of a dangerous precedent. But unfortunately, this is a lot of the way that the NBA acts these days where they're very concerned about their image. And when David Stern feels that someone's crossed him or that somebody has embarrassed him, he will react and punish those people, and he'll come up with a reason afterward.

BLOCK: Is there a precedent, Michael, for what Coach Popovich did yesterday, for sitting out his stars at that point in the season? Was he trying to make a point?

ROSENBERG: There are precedents, perhaps not to that extent. He has sat Tim Duncan, in particular, out for games in the past to rest him. And there's a good reason for it. He wants players to be healthy in the playoffs. And if you look at other sports, baseball teams rest theirs stars all the time. Hockey teams will certainly rest their goalie for a good number of games every year. It's not as common in basketball, but Popovich is trying to win a championship. He thought this was the best way to do it.

And evidently, if he had done it in a different game, I think it would have been OK, but because it was a national TV game against the Heat and it got a lot of notice, Stern reacted.

BLOCK: Hmm. Has there been fan outrage, Michael, when these four players weren't playing, these key players weren't playing in the game? Were fans upset about it?

ROSENBERG: Well, it's an interesting question. I mean, I don't know how many people at that game in Miami really were there to see the Spurs stars. And I'm sure the vast, vast majority of them are there to see the Miami stars. But there's always a risk that when you buy a ticket to a game, that players will be injured, suspended, traded by the time you actually go to the game. And that's the chance you take as a fan. And so I'm sure some people were upset, and they wanted to see those guys play. But this is part of buying a ticket. It's a risk you take.

BLOCK: Any other aftereffects of all of this, Michael, do you think?

ROSENBERG: Well, one thing with the NBA is they tend to react very quickly sometimes with PR in mind and not so much concern about setting a precedent for the future. So I don't know what this is going to mean a month down the road or a year down the road. I do believe that teams will continue to try to rest stars. I just think they're going to be more careful about it and more politically correct about it rather than just saying, hey, we gave these guys the night off, all four at once.

BLOCK: OK. Michael Rosenberg, thank you so much.

ROSENBERG: Thank you so much. My pleasure.

BLOCK: That's Michael Rosenberg, senior writer for Sports Illustrated. We were talking about the $250,000 fine levied against the San Antonio Spurs. The NBA fined the team because some of its star players were allowed to sit out from yesterday's game. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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