Photo courtesy of Michael Tipton
The Golden State Warriors faced the San Antonio Spurs March 11 in a game between the first and second place teams in the NBA’s Western Conference. ABC had rights to broadcast what should have been a potential playoff matchup of championship-caliber teams. What both national viewers and fans in the arena viewed, however, wasn’t the real Warriors-Spurs showcase envisioned by ABC; it was B-team versus B-team.
Beginning with the 76ers Feb. 27, the Warriors played eight games in eight different cities, with the San Antonio game wrapping up a brutal thirteen-day stretch crisscrossing the nation. Golden State went 3-4 over the first seven games, and lost by one point in an emotional contest on to the Timberwolves in Minnesota. The Warriors had to turn around and fly to San Antonio to play the Spurs the next night on little rest, the third back-to-back in that stretch.
Warriors head coach Steve Kerr decided to rest Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and Andre Iguodala and not play them against the Spurs. Kevin Durrant remained sidelined with a knee injury, so none of the four All-Stars on Golden State’s roster played.
San Antonio announced before the game that All-Star forward Kawhi Leonard had entered the NBA’s concussion protocol and would not play. Forward LaMarcus Aldridge was out as well, as he was being tested for minor heart arrhythmia. The big-time game quickly turned into a battle of the benches.
The Spurs beat the Warriors 107-85, which marks the first time Golden State had lost three straight regular season games since 2013. Fans got to see Ian Clark, a Warriors bench player, score 36 points and the Spurs’ Patty Mills drain five 3-pointers, but no court time for reigning MVPs and multiple All-Stars.
The real losers were the fans that watched on TV – and especially those who bought tickets to see their favorite players – only to receive something else. Fans could be seen wearing Curry or Green uniforms, only to be disappointed to see them on the bench. Another fan raised a sign that read, “flew all the way from NY… I’m tired too.”
“I genuinely feel bad for the fans who bought tickets and came to see Steph or Klay or Draymond,” Kerr told The Mercury News after the game. “But I have to do what I have to do. Our team has been through the ringer the last couple weeks.”
Kerr is doing what he believes is best for his team in order to succeed down the stretch and in the playoffs later this season. It’s hard to fault the logic, but in a league built around fan’s entertainment, playing through fatigue is arguably the right thing to do. Fans spend hard-earned money to see their favorite players, who are rewarded with multimillion-dollar contracts, and they deserve to get what they paid for.
At the same time, the NBA should not be held blameless. They make the schedules and want the television revenue. The Warriors are the league’s most popular draw, and if the NBA and TV executives want the marquee matchups with the best players on the floor, then they have a responsibility to adjust the schedule. For example, this year the Warriors will travel about 10,000 more miles than the Sacramento Kings, who play about 90 miles from the Warriors’ arena, so they can squeeze them into more national telecasts.
Maybe Kerr and the Warriors were sending a message to the NBA and the networks — and the fans were caught in the middle.
Ty Bianucci is a life-long fan of the San Francisco Giants, 49ers and Golden State Warriors who started on the sports beat for The Review, but now contributes investigative stories. He, along with two of his colleagues, were awarded the Sunshine Award in 2018 by the Society of Professional Journalists.