I thought of making the Spurs No. 1 for knocking off Memphis – my fourth team in four weeks to fail its audition at the top – but I was afraid Gregg Popovich could give his whole team a week off.
With the Spurs 5-0 on the nine-day trip ending in Miami, Pop sent home Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and Danny Green to rest up for the Grizzlies, whom they beat in overtime two nights later.
All it cost was the $250,000 that David Stern fined the Spurs for stiffing a national TV audience.
Popovich has always been the level-headed one who didn’t have to have the basics explained but, no, you can’t do that.
Remember the days when Magic Johnson’s smile supposedly saved the NBA?
It’s as much incumbent on today’s NBA people to promote their golden goose of a game. Wise as it is to preserve the Spurs’ old guys, this wasn’t the dog days of March or a meaningless game in April. Nothing required them to rest all three of their “Big Three” plus another starter for a game in November.
Now there’s a veritable civil war with Yahoo’s Adrian Wojnarowski alleging Stern has waged a years-long anti-Spurs campaign, and Chris Bernucca hitting him hard, where it hurts, by making the case that Stern is a mere “casual fan.”
Wojnarowski noted a GM sent him a text, joking that Stern’s next bit of revenge would be sending Joey Crawford, the referee the Spurs hate (every team has at least one) to work the Memphis game.
(In fact, a Crawford did, but it was Dan. And he had one of the worst blown calls of the season.)
Then a Halloween pic surfaced, showing Duncan and Parker aiming toy guns at someone dressed as Joey.
For someone who always admired the Spurs as the model of the way players and teams should handle themselves, this is a disaster.
Popovich was the anti-diva. Four titles later, he never lost his humility, talked trash, made excuses or bothered to respond when Phil Jackson zinged him or whined about league conspiracies.
When the Lakers swept his team in the 2001 West Finals, beating them by 22 a game, Pop’s only comment was, “Custer had no idea.”
In the 2008 West Finals, the Lakers dispatched them, 4-1, helped by a key non-call in the pivotal Game 4 in San Antonio – by Joey Crawford – after Derek Fisher body-blocked a shooting Brent Barry.
While all around him looked for tar and feathers, Pop said, “If I was the official I wouldn’t have called that a foul.”
Even though the Spurs drew two kinds of TV ratings in the Finals – bad and record-low – and if Stern once joked his ideal matchup would be “the Lakers against the Lakers,” the thrust of everything this commissioner has done was to level the playing field.
Ask Stern’s “hometown” Knicks, who led Miami, 3-2, in a 1997 second-round series, before he suspended so many of them for the Charlie Ward-P.J. Brown wrestling match – including Patrick Ewing for going a few steps off the bench – they had to sit out in shifts. Three, including Ewing, missed Game 6 in New York, and two missed Game 7 in Miami, both of which the Knicks lost.
As for hosing the Spurs, ask the Suns, who had just won Game 4 on the road to even their 2007 second-round series when Stern suspended Amar’e Stoudemire and Boris Diaw for leaving the bench after Robert Horry body-checked Steve Nash into the scorer’s table.
Without Stoudemire and Diaw, the Spurs won Game 5 in Phoenix, captured Game 6 at home and went on to their last title.
Ask the Lakers how pro-Laker Stern is, with their new $50 million revenue sharing assessment plus luxury tax. Now the NBA’s most profitable team – just starting its new Time Warner deal that adds $120 million to the annual bottom line – has become budget-conscious, even in key decisions. Witness the hiring of Mike D’Antoni, who agreed to take $4 million – $500,000 less than Mike Brown gets not to coach – instead of Jackson, who would have cost at least $9 million.
Screwing up is one thing. Being unable to see Stern’s point is another.
But letting this devolve into a poor-us cultural battle at this late date in so sterling a career?
Say it ain’t so, Pop.
On to the ranks …
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