As sports science evolves we are finding more and more of a correlation between fatigue and injuries. This is a big problem for a league that frequently asks players to play games on consecutive nights and often fly across the country while doing so.
It’s a herculean task for an athlete to compete at a high level late in the evening, board a plane to another city that is in a different time zone, arrive in the early hours of the morning, and then have to compete again just a few hours later.
Sleep deprivation and fatigue mean that brains aren’t as sharp and muscles may not respond as they usually do, and in a league where one star player can be the difference between hoisting a championship and going home early, teams are beginning to put more of an emphasis on rest. Some are even having star players skip games in order to lower the chance of injury, and that’s a problem for the NBA when fans and TV providers shell out big bucks.
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver sent a memo to the league on Monday and threatened “significant penalties” for teams not following league rules regarding resting players, per Ramona Shelburne of ESPN:
In the memo, Silver informed teams that the issue will be a prime topic of discussion at the next NBA Board of Governors meeting April 6 in New York and warned of ”significant penalties” for teams that don’t abide by the league’s standing rules for providing ”notice to the league office, their opponent, and the media immediately upon a determination that a player will not participate in a game due to rest.”
On Saturday, the Cleveland Cavaliers rested stars Kevin Love, LeBron James, and Kyrie Irving when they took on the L.A. Clippers. While the Cavs can certainly run their team as they see fit and sports science suggests they made the correct choice, the problem is that the game against the Clippers was nationally televised, with a marquee matchup of the Cavs stars pitting themselves against Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, and DeAndre Jordan a lock to draw big ratings.
To his credit, Silver does recognize that keeping players healthy is important and noted that having fans miss seeing a star in person is better than that star getting injured and then being out for an extended period. The NBA is already doing what they can to limit back-to-back games and lessen travel, but further tweaks are needed in order to ensure that media providers and the NBA find a solution to make the league’s stars as accessible – and safe – as possible.