If there’s one thing social media has taught me, it’s that all you need to do to signal your sincere respect for someone whom you happen to be criticizing is preface your criticism with the phrase, “With all due respect.” So, with all due respect, it is my opinion that Sean Marks should be banished from basketball, Kevin Durant should be forced to host a dinner party for 20 randomly selected Twitter critics, and Steve Nash should go back to whatever Radiohead concert he thinks he belongs at. The Nets stole a lot of people’s money on Wednesday night, and the NBA facilitated it.
If you think that sounds harsh, I’ll remind you that, back in the good old days, the punishment for this level of crime probably would often involve some form of dismemberment. I don’t know how Hammurabi would have dealt with the modern NBA, but he wouldn’t be spending his shekels to watch a game in which Durant’s biggest contribution was clapping his hands. Hammurabi wasn’t a sucker, which is exactly what the league seems to think the rest of us are.
It took almost four months, but the 2020-21 season has finally reached a level of absurdity that we can no longer ignore. On Wednesday night, two teams took the court for what all of the league-sanctioned marketing materials told us was a can’t-miss game. The Sixers and Nets were tied for first place. The winner would gain the tiebreaker for home-court advantage in the Eastern Conference. Doris Burke was there. So was DJ Jazzy Jeff. This was supposed to a champagne matchup. Instead, the Nets brought Alize.
Alize Johnson. That’s who was on the court for the Nets in the closing minutes of a one-possession game. If you don’t know who that is, you probably wouldn’t know many of the guys who were with him. Kyrie Irving was on the bench, despite the fact that the Sixers did not appear to be able to guard him. Brooklyn’s other two superstars were not even wearing uniforms.
It played out as it often does. A bunch of people bought tickets to see a specific game. A bunch of execs at ESPN bought the rights to broadcast it. But when the game arrived, it was a different one entirely. A few hours before tipoff, with star James Harden already sidelined with a hamstring injury, the Nets announced that Durant would be joining him on the bench with a case of “KD soooo tired.”
Officially, the injury report cited “injury management” as the reason for Durant’s absence. It was a fair and perhaps even honest assessment of the reality at hand: Durant had recently returned from a hamstring injury that has cost him a significant chunk of the season, and he is still less than two years removed from rupturing his Achilles tendon. At the same time, this was a telling game to skip. The Nets will point to the unplanned back-to-back games they were playing after civil unrest in Minnesota forced the Timberwolves to postpone their game for a day. What they have no answer for is why Durant could not have sat out that one.
The answer is, he could have. He should have. And if the NBA had any concern about the long-term future of its regular season, Durant would have been out there. The Timberwolves are the worst team in the NBA, a team that has nothing to play for, a team that plays in a different conference. That Brooklyn elected to play him Tuesday instead of Wednesday can only be interpreted as complete disregard for the significance of the regular season.
If this was any other product, Ralph Nader would be waking up this morning and considering a presidential bid. But the NBA has conditioned us to accept this as the norm. Ticket buyer beware.
What the NBA does not realize is that they are getting awfully close to succumbing to their greed. It’s one thing to take your customers for granted. It’s another to barely bother to hide it. Nobody expected this season to be normal, but it shouldn’t have been a sham. There were ways to ensure that marquee matchups like Sixers-Nets wouldn’t fall victim to the inevitable rest days teams were going to give their players in the midst of the most grueling schedule in league history. In the short term, it might have meant sacrificing a couple of nothing games or asking teams to be flexible with their travel. But it would pay dividends in the long term by preserving the integrity of the regular season.
Here’s one idea: Don’t schedule any of those matchups for the back end of a back-to-back. It wouldn’t have helped save Nets-Sixers, but it would have given teams more flexibility to handle plenty of other matchups. This isn’t about Wednesday night. It’s about the season as a whole. The top two teams in the Eastern Conference will enter the playoffs without having played a single regular-season game against each other at full strength. The Sixers also have yet to play the Heat or the Bucks when both teams have all their stars.
On Wednesday, the Sixers mostly shrugged off the Nets’ decision to sit Durant.
“It might be a strategic thing for them,” guard Danny Green said. “I know in San Antonio, some games we didn’t play everybody so teams don’t know how to guard us, how to play us. But I just think for them, it’s unfortunate. They’ve had some injuries and they’ve had some guys with some family issues going on so that sucks, but they’re a tough matchup, regardless.”
Wednesday? That wasn’t unfortunate. It was classic bait-and-switch. If you bought a ticket, you should let them know. With all due respect.