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Regular Season Rest, and Why It Needs to Stop

As players age, the need for rest begins to increase. And with the emphasis of the NBA campaign becoming more and more on the playoffs rather than the regular season, these players are beginning to sit out games in hopes of unleashing come May and June. But this tactic needs to end, as it is unfair for the fans, the opponents, as well as the NBA as a whole.

As LeBron James has creeped into his 30s, his body has begun to wear down, and the superstar is sometimes unable to lead his team on a day in and day out basis. These past few years, the former high school phenom has ensured his body is ready for the physicality of the playoffs by taking games off here and there throughout the regular season, usually when there are contests taking place on back to back days. Last season, James missed six games in total, his first coming December 5th against the Miami Heat. However, the King has started this annual routine early in 2016, sitting out this past Wednesday’s matchup with the Pacers. The Cavaliers’ best player relaxed in a suit and tie on the bench as he watched his team lose their second game this year by a score of 103-93.

While resting in the regular season is understandable, since it is truly the playoffs that determine what matters at season’s end, it is a strategy that is unfair to the fans, to opponents, and the entire league. Fans pay good money to watch their home team play, and the price only increases when players such as LeBron come to town. It is a shame when someone buys tickets to a game against the Cavaliers weeks, or even months, in advance, only to see the best player in the world sit on the sideline and clap. For some fanbases, top teams only come to their home stadium a few times per year, making it that much more devastating when an opponent’s superstar decides not to showcase their talents in favor of ‘much-needed’ rest. The topic becomes even more appalling when you note that ticket prices against the elite squads in the league go up specifically due to the superstars on those rosters. So when those superstars decide not to play, the fans not only lose the money they paid to see a basketball game in general, but they lose the increased cost that was in place because of those particular athletes.

For example, let’s say the Spurs are flying into Oregon to play the Trail Blazers. The price of this game, for fans, will likely be higher than the average game due to the opportunity to see players such as Kawhi Leonard and LaMarcus Aldridge in action. But if Gregg Popovich decides to rest Leonard and Aldridge in Portland, those fans lose this opportunity and the increased charge put in place is now purposeless.

The situation is equally as unacceptable even if the star sits out a home game rather than away. Just because the game takes place in Cleveland or San Antonio, or wherever the franchise resides, doesn’t mean every fan there always gets a chance to attend. Many fans are only able to show up to a set number of contests, an abundant no more than one or two. Some may only be in town for a few days, so this is the only game they will be able to get to. Consequently, whenever a superstar decides to rest, whether home or on the road, there will always be those who go home disappointed.

Along with being a disservice to the fans, resting players during the regular season stands as a disservice to the other teams around The Association as well. Come late April, there are typically many teams fighting for seed placements as well as playoff berths. Every single contest counts, as these battles sometimes come down to a mere game in the standings. So when one of these teams matches up against a lineup of backups, because the opposition has decided that their starters need some rest, an unfair advantage is created for that team. Every club on any given day should always put forth their best roster possible, as that is the only way to keep the integrity of these late playoff races alive. Yes, if a player is actually injured, that given player can and obviously should sit until they are healthy again. But if a superstar is perching on the bench for ‘rest’, that is simply not a convincing excuse.

Lastly, teams’ and players’ disregard over the importance of regular season games could serve as a hit against the NBA brand as a whole. There are a grand total of 30 teams that play 82 regular season contests each, while the playoffs include only 16 of those units with a maximum of 28 games played for a single team. These numbers show that most of the NBA is delivered through the regular season, not the playoffs. Although the playoffs likely reel in the higher attendance and TV ratings, Adam Silver would be lying if he told you the relevance of regular season games isn’t essential to the basketball brand. So when superstars decide that regular season games don’t matter, and thus sit them out, they are unintentionally providing a serious blow to the league in which they play. Soon, fans will start to follow in the players’ negligence of the regular season and simply wait for the playoffs to begin. I mean, the playoffs are all that matters, right? So why attend games in the regular season if your team is still likely to be competing when the playing field is cut in half? Why watch the game on TV if it doesn’t affect a seven game series? This logic would be a huge punch in the face for franchises, the owners, and the NBA collectively.

Yes, I understand players need their rest. And yes, I do realize it is, in fact, the playoffs that determine the banners that hang from rafters across the country (plus Toronto). But when superstars decide to sit out during the regular season, they are doing a huge disservice to the fans that support them, the other teams around The Association, as well as the NBA altogether. This is a tactic that needs to be stopped, because I’m sure 48 minutes of lounging on the bench isn’t worth the kid’s day it ruins, the playoff race it determines, or the 82 game regular season it undermines.