LeBron James when asked about sitting out games while with Heat: ‘It’s never been part of my DNA’

Fans in Memphis were not happy LeBron James, along with Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love, needed a night off.

Fans in Memphis were not happy that Cleveland’s LeBron James, along with Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love, needed a night off.

MIAMI – Erik Spoelstra was just 13 the night he was looking forward to seeing his favorite team, the Portland Trail Blazers, play the hated Los Angeles Lakers and that rising hotshot coach, Pat Riley.

Spoelstra, a budding basketball savant, wanted to see how his team stacked up against the defending champions with the playoffs looming.

“I wanted to see Portland kick their ass,” he said.

He did. But it was not the same.

Not with Magic Johnson and James Worthy back in L.A.

“I was really excited to see that game,” Spoelstra told me this week. “It was the last game of the season so they were getting ready for the playoffs and Pat didn’t even bring them. They weren’t even on the bench.

Spoelstra remembers turning to his father and asking, “Are we still going?’’’

Spoelstra reminds his boss to this day about how he robbed a young boy of seeing two of the league’s stars. But it was the regular-season finale – not November or December – and the Lakers were preparing for the playoffs – not sitting players four months before the start of the postseason.

This week, the NBA was faced with a PR firestorm when Cleveland left behind their Big Three of LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love for a game in Memphis. The decision was made strictly to rest their stars on the second night of a back-to-back.

This phenomenon is becoming more commonplace. Flash back four years ago when then-commissioner David Stern fined San Antonio $250,000 for resting Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker and Danny Green for a nationally televised game in Miami.

Coach Greg Popovich just shrugged his shoulders, laughed it off, and continued the practice for which his fingerprints are all over.

    “It’s never been part of my DNA. … I’ve got to be out there for my teammates. It’s my obligation to be out there for them. I’m dealing with a few things but for me to sit out, I have to be dealing with a lot more.”

    Miami Heat forward LeBron James in 2014 when asked about sitting out games.

Science has proven that DNA can be altered. James must have been part of that study.

During James’ four years in Miami he missed 18 games, mostly because of nagging injuries but a few others during the final weeks of the season with the playoffs approaching.

But never for rest during the middle of the season. In fact, the subject never was discussed according to Spoelstra.

But, times have changed.

“We’re looking at science a lot more than we have before,” Spoelstra said. “We’re trying to be smart with it. We’re trying not to overload their minutes during specific blocks of games.

“But I don’t think anybody knows for sure right now.”

Spoelstra believes you can manage workloads by managing minutes during games and cutting back on practice time and shoot arounds.

The Heat is not a team that will require healthy players to sit out. In fact, most already have had plenty of rest because of injuries. And players like Goran Dragic, a fiercely competitive point guard, would not think of taking off a game if completely healthy.

“It kind of sucks for the fans,” Dragic said. “They’re paying for tickets and they want to see the best players in the world.”

Dragic, though, says he “completely understands” someone like LeBron taking an occasional night off after playing in six consecutive Finals. “He needs to take care of this body,” said Dragic, who also sees the dilemma when it comes to fans paying a lot of money to see their favorite players and finding that team is treating the game like the preseason.

“It kind of sucks for the fans,” he said. “They’re paying for tickets and they want to see the best players in the world.”

Heat veteran forward Udonis Haslem, though, does not believe a team’s obligation is to the fans.

“A teams’ No. 1 priority is to win a championship,” he said. “If resting guys on back-to-backs … You got to do what you got to do for your team.”

Yet, 48 hours prior to the game LeBron decided to sit out (and please do not believe he had no say in this decision), he was jetting to Brooklyn for the SI’s Sportsperson of the Year Award celebration. That was Monday night, the night before he had a game in Cleveland.

That, he could not miss. But a silly game for which he is being paid $31 million to play …

Otherwise, here was LeBron’s grueling schedule the last week:

Thursday off. Friday home game. Saturday home game. Sunday off. Monday off. Tuesday home game.

And on the seventh day he rested (again).

No wonder he was beat. Having to travel from his home in Akron to Cleveland three times in five days can take a toll on your body.

NBA commissioner Adam Silver acknowledges this has become a major issue and recently told SiriusXM NBA Radio that he cannot do much about it.

“I’m super-reluctant to start telling these great coaches how they should manage minutes of players,’’ he said,

Michael Jordan played all 82 games eight times in his career, which is eight more than LeBron. And then there is John Stockton, who played 82 games a stunning 16 times.

“This stuff just drives me crazy,” former Celtics star Kevin McHale said on NBA TV. “I could understand if you’re working in a coal mine. You’re playing basketball! I never got tired in a game. It’s fun to play.”

But this just isn’t about LeBron. Several players have been healthy scratches this season, including the Kings’ DeMarcus Cousins who took off Wednesday’s game in Houston. I guess Cousins, who is 26 and has played in 439 games in his career, won’t have enough time off from mid-April to October.

Next year, the NBA season will start a week to 10 days early, helping reduce the number of back-to-backs (the Heat have 15 this season) and four games in five nights (the Heat had just one) and perhaps cut down on players’ sitting out games.

But you never know when LeBron might have a gala to attend and then decide he needs a mini vacation.

[Josh Richardson feels ‘a lot better’ and ‘a lot faster’ without bulky knee brace]

[Justise Winslow, hoping to find his rhythm, will continue to come off Heat bench]

[Heat’s Hassan Whiteside on Clippers’ DeAndre Jordan: ‘He just catches lobs’]

 

 

 

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