By Justin Lasher
So last week, Tyronn Lue made a decision to rest his “big three” on the road against the Memphis Grizzlies. In fact, LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, and Kevin Love didn’t even make the trip to Memphis for the 12/14 game. This caused an outraged reaction from fans who paid for tickets to see LeBron play, etc. and were left watching a skeleton of a Cavs team who won the NBA Championship last season. My message to these fans is simple, in fact I took a page out of the Aaron Rodgers book, and say to them “RELAX.”
The decision to rest players happens all the time in all sports. This is not a new concept. Fans should be used to this and should know not to expect things when they buy tickets to attend games. Would there be the same outraged reaction if someone like LeBron or Kyrie had gotten injured and were out due to injury rather than rest? My assumption is no, so fans need to relax. This happens. In fact, Lue delivered a message before the NBA season even started that we could expect more of this this year, especially with LeBron. When you purchase tickets to a sporting event, there is always a chance that this could happen. That is the chance you take when attending a live sporting event. Anything can happen.
Part of my “Relax” message to fans, is we need to learn to be fans of teams, not players. I’m not saying it’s not ok to have favorite players, that is natural, but don’t base your fandom of a sport or a team, solely on the fact that a certain player is playing. Players come and go, their careers are shot, or they may choose to change teams based on free agency, so as fans, it is best if we learn to be fans of teams. It is more unlikely that a team will come and go. The team will most likely always be there for us, and by being a team fan, we can have consistency and stability. When we chose to attend a game of our favorite team, we go with the pretense that we are watching “our” team play and it doesn’t matter who is playing that night, as we are watching the team play and are supporting the team no matter what.
Now I shift my focus from the fan, to the perspective of a player. I played sports my entire life, and had the opportunity to be a division I athlete. So with that, I’d like to think that I have a little credibility to speak on behalf of the athlete as well as the fan. Please don’t take offense to my next statement, but it is completely true. As a player of any sport, you choose to play the sport for you, not for the fans. As a professional athlete, you are playing for a contract and your ultimate goal is to win a championship, not make sure your fans are happy. Sure this may seem selfish, but it is the facts. Athletes will play the sports, regardless of how many people are in the stands. With this in mind, we have to remember that as fans, we are going to a game for entertainment purposes only, we are not entitled to feel or believe that we deserve anything. Disappointment is something that can happen. I compare this to buying a ticket to a movie that we are excited to see and we go and the movie didn’t live up to our expectations, are we outraged? Not exactly. So again, I say relax.
In my next point, I will attempt to now bridge the gap between fan and athlete. If you are a working person, we all have careers. We long to have a long and successful career. Athletes are no different. This is their career. They, like us long to have a long and successful career. How many times have you said that you need a “mental day” or a “personal day” off? My question is, if it’s ok for you to take a day off to maintain your mental health or physical health, why is it not ok for an athlete to do this? I am completely ok with and believe that a player is entitled a day off here and there. Think about it, they are always traveling, have daily workouts, meetings, shoot arounds, film sessions, team appearances, etc. What they do is extremely tiring. Yes, I do understand that they are very well compensated and I am not feeling sorry for them, but they are humans, and like us, it is ok for them to take a day off here and there.
In terms of a team telling a player that they have the night off, a team is simply protecting their investment, while keeping their long term goal of winning a championship in tact. These sports seasons are long, grinding, and tiring. Think about it, a MLB season is approximately seven months, NBA season is approximately 9 months, and NFL season is approximately five months. During this time athletes are working 6-7 days a week, including holidays. You can’t blame a team or an athlete for making a decision that is best for them. You and I do it every day. So why the double standard?