Thursday's game between the Miami Heat and San Antonio Spurs was supposed to be a nationally televised showcase of two elite, star-studded teams. The promo practically wrote itself: "It's Lebron, Wade, Bosh and the Heat against Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and the Spurs, tonight on TNT!"
Instead, the game became the subject of an ethics debate among players, fans and the media about the basic purpose of sports. Are NBA players entertainers or competitors first? Now we know, depressingly and definitively, that David Stern says "entertainers."
The drama started when Spurs coach Gregg Popovich—a brilliant, irascible coach who will do whatever it takes to win—decided to sit Duncan, Parker, Ginobili, and Danny Green and let them travel home to San Antonio early. Popovich's rationale was simple: It's the last game of a long road trip, my stars are aging veterans, and we probably won't beat the Heat in Miami anyway, so I'm going to think long-term and give my best guys a day off.
"This month we've had 11 away games, after tonight," Popovich explained to reporters, "We've had an eight-day trip and a 10-day trip, and we're ending it with four [games] in five nights here. I think it'd be unwise to be playing our guys in that kind of a situation, given their history."