Old guys are getting crotchety again.
Whether it’s Oscar Robertson criticizing Steph Curry or Goose Gossage blasting Bryce Harper, every six months or so we’re graced with the glorious soundbite (or these days, Tweet) from athletes of yesteryear cracking back at the ones of today.
Karl Malone is the latest to be struck with a nasty case of “Get Off My Lawn” syndrome.
Known as “The Mailman” because he always delivered (except in those two NBA Finals against Michael Jordan), Malone rarely took a night off. He is the game’s second all-time leading scorer (behind Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) and is fourth all-time in games played (behind Robert Parrish, Kareem and former teammate John Stockton).
Apparently, Malone isn’t too keen on current NBA stars taking nights off. Saturday night he told ESPN’s Sage Steele just that. “If you don’t have at least ten years [of] experience, get your ass playin’,” said Malone in response the Cavs’ big three not playing in a nationally televised game. ESPN/ABC’s latest attempt to attract fans by airing games on Saturday night prime time has backfired considering the Golden State Warriors rested their starters in the same time slot in San Antonio one week ago.
It’s becoming more common these days for NBA teams to rest their players during the regular season. One might even consider it a strategic maneuver. How can you properly prepare for a team in the post-season if you haven’t faced them at full strength? Gregg Popovich has been criticized in the past for resting his aging veterans, thinking a night off or two would have them more playoff ready. These moves seem logical for teams vying for a championship. Furthermore, statistics show that those playing in games on consecutive days are far more prone to injury.
Another perfectly valid argument is that it shorts fans of a true NBA experience.
Let’s say for example that you and I live in Orlando. When the NBA schedule comes out, knowing we might not get another chance to see Tim Duncan play before he retires, you and I spend top dollar on tickets to see the Spurs when they come to town, as they’ll do only once a season. Months in advance, we spend hundreds of dollars on those tickets only to find out the night before the Pop, confident that San Antonio can beat Orlando without his superstars, will not be playing Tim Duncan. The tickets we dumped all that money on are now worthless.
I’m pretty sure when Malone made his latest comments, cracking on players for not playing a full schedule, he wasn’t talking about Tim Duncan, who is now retired. In fact, I’m not too sure Malone mentioned anyone by name. But it was definitely an old schooler sounding off in old school fashion. Anyone who has ever watched Malone play or heard him speak should not be the least bit surprised.
Today’s is a kinder, gentler NBA with nary a fight. Back-to-back nights featuring scuffles between Curry vs. Westbrook and Brook Lopez vs. Serge Ibaka were head-turning in their rarity. Everyone now wears suits and ties and does family-friendly, insurance commercials. They also don’t play full schedules.
Malone has every right to speak his mind. The back of his basketball card speaks for itself. The guy was also a freak of nature, always keeping his body in tip-top shape. Even if he did come off sounding a little Eastwoodian, Malone’s comments sparked a conversation that needed to be had.
The NBA has a problem on its hands. In one hand, they have teams trying to manage their resources and best put themselves in a position to win a championship. In the other, they’re trying to keep their fans happy. Fans know Orlando isn’t winning a championship any time soon. The only highlight of their season might be when Steph Curry comes to town. Not to mention the fact that resting players indicates certain regular season games are, shall we say, not that important.
If it’s one thing the NBA doesn’t like, it’s bad press. The league is pretty proficient about resolving these issues. Commissioner Silver has already advised teams to tread lightly when it comes to sitting players. This off-season, owners and players will look into how to best ensure all interests (i.e., fans, owners, players, advertisers) are taken into account. It seems extreme to make players not on injured reserve play all their road games but that’s a distinct possibility if it involves a) not alienating fans and b) not alienating ESPN and Turner Sports, who just ponied up $24 billion (with a b!!!) for the rights to show their product.
Considering the players are seeing a fair portion of that money, it’s not too much to ask they show up in uniform on a night they’re feeling a little weary, at least if you ask Karl Malone.
In the end, this is all much ado about nothing. The players will get back to playing, the league will stretch the season out even longer and league veterans will find something else to complain about.
They always do.