NBA players missing games to rest is nothing new. However, two recent incidents have brought the topic to center stage. On Saturday, March 11, the Warriors held their stars out of action for a nationally televised contest with the Spurs in San Antonio, blaming a difficult travel schedule.
Seven days later, ABC’s primetime matchup was ruined for the second consecutive week when the Cavaliers chose not to play LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love in Los Angeles against the Clippers.
With Cavs resting, NBA Saturday Primetime scores 1.1 overnight rating — likely lowest ever for NBA on broadcast TV: https://t.co/3w1u2amAXy
— Paulsen (@paulsen_smw) March 20, 2017
Cavs general manager David Griffin said his team got a call from the league office within minutes of the announcement that their All Stars wouldn’t play that evening. The following Monday, NBA commissioner Adam Silver sent a memo to the owners of all 30 clubs regarding what he views as an “extremely significant issue.”
From ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne: “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.’” Per Shelburne, Silver also referenced “the impact these decisions can have on ‘fans and business partners,’ the reputation of the league and ‘perception of our game.’”
On Tuesday, LeBron James gave his take on the situation. Via Dave McMenamin of ESPN, James said: “I just know the conversation gets a little bit more talked about when I’m a part of it. If it’s somebody else, it gets blown up briefly, it gets talked about a little bit, but it doesn’t have legs and it’s gone. But as soon as I’m involved it’s just a whole different situation.”
When you’re the sport’s biggest superstar, obviously everything you do carries more weight than when other players do the same. But as McMenamin points out, this was also the fifth time this year James had missed a game to rest.
NBD, just LeBron James sippin’ some coffee on his day off
— Def Pen Hoops (@DefPenHoops) March 19, 2017
The specific circumstances of what Cleveland did in Los Angeles were also particularly difficult for fans to swallow. Resting players on the second night of back-to-backs is generally considered a reasonable practice. Instead, the trio of James, Irving and Love sat out the first night of consecutive games (after an off day), then played on Sunday against the Lakers.
From a win-loss standpoint, the strategy made no sense. The Cavs predictably got blown out by the Clippers while short-handed, then beat the Lakers (the team with the second-worst record in the league) at full strength. Had they flipped their decision, or rested Irving and Love one day and James the other, the Cavs might well have won both games.
It’s clear that proper rest and recovery is essential for elite athletes and a key part of injury prevention (see studies on the NBA and MLB). However, does it have to come at the expense of missing games? What if NBA players could equally reduce the overall strain on their bodies by occasionally making other changes to their daily routines instead?
On The Rich Eisen Show last week, Clippers guard JJ Redick discussed how he and his teammates use WHOOP:
In addition to Sleep and Recovery, WHOOP quantifies Strain, both for a given workout and an entire day. A recent analysis from the WHOOP data science department found that users take on an average daily Strain of 9.3 (on an individualized scale of 0-21) from regular activities unrelated to workouts. For comparison, an average 30-60 minute cycling workout registers a Strain of 9.2. Weightlifting for that same time period averages a 6.7.
WHOOP user data also shows that playing basketball for 2-3 hours creates an average Strain of 13.3. An NBA player eliminating that strain load in other areas could be just as effective as sitting out a game. Additionally, when players sit it’s not as if they’re literally doing nothing. In L.A. last weekend, LeBron was at the game and on the bench cheering for his teammates, which factors into his day’s total Strain.
Games account for less than three hours of a 24-hour day–there are plenty of opportunities over the course of a day (or even two or three days depending on the schedule) for NBA players to get rest and eliminate strain without skipping a game. The obvious example is to miss a practice the day before or after, but that may not apply when teams are on the road. What about cutting out a session in the weight room, or staying back at the hotel and taking a nap instead of participating in pre-game shootaround? Those a just a few examples.
When WHOOP and other technologies used throughout the league show that players are in need of rest, shouldn’t teams be capable of findings ways to get it for them without holding them out of games?