Graphic by Bob Xia
In recent years, a popular trend has started among the National Basketball Association’s superstars: load management. In essence, load management is an overcomplicated term for resting top players in order to preserve their bodies for the playoffs.
Resting key players for the playoffs is certainly nothing new. In football, top ranked teams will rest starters the week before the playoffs begin. In baseball, pitchers will take time to prepare for the quick turnaround of their playoff games. However, with the NBA being such a superstar–driven league, the recent spike in load management is not a positive move for a sport.
In the NBA, an 82–game schedule means more than eight months of constant travel, change in time zones and sleep in a different bed. Even though the NBA has done a lot to improve spacing in the schedule, making 4–game–in-5–nights extinct, and reducing the amount of back-to-back-games teams play, the season’s still grueling.
From a player’s perspective, missing ten or even twenty games in a season is preferable to playing with an injury. For every story about Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant, there are equal questions of what could have been, like if Penny Hardaway’s knees stayed strong or if Derrick Rose could stay healthy. As recently as two years ago, Demarcus Cousins, a perennial All–Star preparing to sign a multi–hundred million dollar contract was derailed by the tearing of his achilles tendon.
With horror stories like these, it is easy to see why stars such as Kawhi Leonard and Lebron James have taken up load management. No one would want to take a chance of losing hundreds of millions of dollars, especially if the rest can help win championships.
But with horror stories from the players come horror stories from the fans. Put simply, NBA tickets are not cheap and fans fuel the league just as any other entertainment media, so fans are not happy with their favorite players sitting.
There have been a bevy of complaints flung from fans everywhere. Imagine being a fan of the largest NBA franchise: the Los Angeles Lakers. According to yahoo.com, the average price of a ticket to a Lakers game is $473, so let’s look at the fan experience with load management.
Say a fan buys just two tickets and after the cheapest parking and food in L.A. that fan has spent $1000 for essentially three hours of entertainment. Now, putting the cost aside, think of why that fan chose to go to the game. They go to see Ali vs. Frazier, not the battle of the benchwarmers.
Even worse than a fan being robbed of their money and time, think of all the kids. When you are a kid, you know the big names, not the teams. Try explaining to a family that the money they saved so they could watch Lebron was all for not because he did not feel like playing. This has been an especially fiery topic, given that the players are not hurt.
But there is still one perspective to look at, the money. TV networks also aren’t happy about players sitting. The load management discussion skyrockets every time a player takes a seat for a nationally televised game.
Most recently, that was the case when Kawhi Leonard sat for the championship contender Clippers against the first place Bucks. A game that was hyped up for the star power involved turned out to be a slug fest and blowout. In the short–term, that might mean less viewers for a couple of games. But in the long run, decisions like this could damage the players’ pockets.
Because this issue is just beginning, it is probable that we will see players continue to rest for playoffs and the topic to be hotly debated; however, there is no reason that healthy players should be sitting.