It’s ironic that star power, the NBA’s driving force and it’s biggest advantage, is also at times it’s biggest weakness. There are only so many franchise-altering players in the league to go around, that the distribution results in Haves and Have-Nots.
A team’s chances of winning the title without at least one top-20 calibre player are slim, which means those stars are rightly treated as gold.
As such, teams have to do everything in their power to not only hold on to their stars, but prolong their longevity and keep them healthy for when it matters – the playoffs.
It’s not as if teams have just realised this, but the issue of resting stars has reached its zenith now because teams are as proactive as ever at restricting the miles on their most important players.
That’s how the NBA ends up in unfavourable situations like the ones it experienced during nationally-televised games the past two Saturdays.
Facing the San Antonio Spurs in their eighth game in 13 days, the Golden State Warriors sat out Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green.
One week later, the Cleveland Cavaliers followed suit by giving a night off to LeBron James and Kyrie Irving against the Los Angeles Clippers in the first of a back-to-back.
Neither game was all that competitive, but more importantly, fans who shelled out a good amount of money for a star-filled encounter were instead resigned to watching a contest which left much to be desired.
That’s definitely a cause for concern for the NBA. Unhappy fans and unhappy television networks are bad for business because the league, at the end of the day, is a money-making endeavour. But you know what else is bad – nay, worse – for business? Injured stars and one-sided playoff series.
Injuries are mostly unpredictable, but players can’t get hurt if they’re not playing (insert Roll Safe meme).
It’s less about the risk of suffering an injury in a game though, than it is about putting additional wear and tear on bodies that already have the burden of playing a regular season, a gruelling playoffs and in many cases, an international slate in the summer.
The fans who would be upset about paying for tickets to attend a marquee match-up devoid of stars in February, would be the same people to suffer when their team is without its best player in May.
In the best interest of everyone involved – fans, media, players, franchises, the league office – the latter should be of bigger concern.
NBA commissioner Adam Silver certainly gets it. Unlike his predecessor David Stern, who fined the Spurs $250,000 four years ago for resting players against the Miami Heat in a nationally-televised game, Silver hasn’t yet handed out any penalties over the matter and seems unlikely to, unless it’s a case of a team not giving enough notice beforehand.
Instead, Silver understands that the culprit here aren’t coaches or players, but the schedule. It’ll be a cold day in hell when the NBA reduces its number of regular season games – it’s too much money for the owners and league to give up – but starting next season, the preseason will be truncated and the regular season will have an extra week for games to breathe.
It won’t completely halt the practice of resting stars, but we’ll all be better off for it in the end.
Jurgen Klopp and Pep Guardiola are two of the more fashionable coaches in modern football, but there are distinct differences between them in playing styles and approach, at least on the surface.
Klopp’s “heavy metal football”, a moniker he deeply regrets but still seems so fitting, is about playing fast and direct in transition. Seizing on an opponent’s weakness when they are at their most vulnerable and punishing them for it.
Guardiola too is also about targeting weak points but his approach is more of a methodical, all-encompassing gameplan with the focus on possession. Klopp gets from Point A to B as quickly as is possible; Guardiola takes the scenic route.
Klopp is a personable individual leaving a warm glow on those in his company, who seems to be forever smiling and when facing the media defaults to delivering wise-cracks, almost as a defence mechanism.
Guardiola on the other hand can often appear cold and calculating, exuding an academic approach and whose ‘jokes’ are dry. Although he’s never that forthcoming in press conferences when it comes to discussing or explaining tactics, the famous Johan Cruyff quote: “If I wanted you to understand it, I would have explained it better”, would no doubt elicit a wry smile from the Catalan.
Jurgen Klopp insists Liverpool will be ready if Pep Guardiola springs a tactical surprise at Anfield on New Year’s Eve. #lfc (James Pearce)— Anfield HQ (@AnfieldHQ) December 29, 2016
Klopp is in on the pitch with his players, clad in a more traditional coach’s attire of tracksuit and benchcoat; Guardiola the more sartorially aware with designer jumpers, suits… albeit paired, somewhat questionably, with a pair of box-fresh Converse.
But for all their differences, each owes a debt of gratitude to the other for how they’ve shaped their thinking and helped develop over the decade. The fast-paced counter-attacks of Klopp’s Borussia Dortmund, which shook the Bundesliga from 2010-2012, were in direct contrast to Guardiola’s Barcelona, who had become almost a parody of themselves with monotonous but devilishly effective possession football.
But, at the same time, Klopp mirrored elements of Guardiola with such a focus on pressing from his attacking players. It was at a more ferocious rate, perhaps, but just like Lionel Messi, David Villa and Pedro were required to force defenders into mistakes, so too were Robert Lewandowski and Shinji Kagawa.
Although Bayern had wrestled control back in Germany by the time of Guardiola’s arrival in 2013, his pass-heavy ways had begun to look predictable and a little stale. He needed to adapt.
A 4-2 defeat to Klopp’s Dortmund in the German Super Cup – his first game in charge – helped highlight this and the correction was made three months later in a league meeting, when Guardiola adopted a more direct fast-passing style, harnessing the natural wing play of Arjen Robben, which left Dortmund’s attacking press obselete and the Bavarians won 3-0.
Two more games between the two finished a win apiece but by the second season of their rivalry it was clear Guardiola had worked Dortmund out – although signing Lewandowski helped – as the Bavarians won both league meetings.
Klopp’s gegenpress had run out of steam, so too his patience with Bayern’s immense financial dominance but, at the same time, he had been unable to significantly evolve his approach in order to counter the very changes Guardiola was making. That being said, Dortmund were one of the few sides able to give Bayern a bloody nose during Guardiola’s time in Germany.
Fast-paced, relentlessly-attacking teams, who don’t hold onto the ball for long, remain Guardiola’s kryptonite. But as we approach the ninth meeting between the two – 4-4 in terms of results but Guardiola perhaps leading the judge’s scorecards – it is the German who has been able to sufficiently adapt to English football as Guardiola still makes his necessary changes.
Time, of course, dictates such, as do transfer windows, but Klopp’s more authentically English methods have unsurprisingly found more of a home in the Premier League. The directness of his Dortmund days remain but this Liverpool team are also more intricate in their approach; they lead the Premier Legaue in terms of passes per game and are second only to City in average possession.
Klopp, if anything, has brought a little of what Guardiola showed in Germany with him to England. The Catalan on the other hand is finding out his own widespread alterations at the Etihad must be gradual.
When City have been bad, they’ve been appalling and look a side not so much in transition but in the aftermath of a revolution – their defence in ruins as the possession flag is raised high.
As Klopp reacted to Guardiola and then Pep followed suit to soften the impact of “heavy metal football”, Saturday night’s meeting will give some insight into which coach could be on-trend for 2017.
One FIFA World Cup, two European Championships, two Olympics, three Ryder Cups, three different Formula One world champions, the sacking of Jose Mourinho by Chelsea, and Lance Armstrong being exposed as a serial cheat.
Then there was David Moyes’ ill-fated succession to Sir Alex Ferguson at Man United, Manchester City’s astonishing victory over QPR with two stoppage time goals in the last game of the season in 2012 to seal their first title in 44 years, and the death of Muhammad Ali – just some of the international sports stories that stand out for me in six and a bit years and 2,000 editions as editor of Sport360.
But it’s not just the international scene which has got us this far because the development of sport in the region has played just as important a role in helping us achieve what we set out to do when Sport360 was launched in September, 2010, which was to become an unrivalled multi-platform sports media company.
The UAE was already well on its way to becoming an international sports hub by combining world class facilities, almost perfect weather conditions for the majority of the year, and a determination to be the best hosts which has attracted the world’s top stars, from Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy, to Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic and Rafa Nadal and many others. The Dubai World Cup at Meydan was already an unrivalled horse racing event, the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix had set new standards as far as F1 facilites are concerned, the Dubai Marathon was world class and the Arabian Gulf League was improving every season.
We were lucky that we had these incredible tournaments, amongst others, and facilities to support, grow alongside and provide the kind of coverage they had never seen before. And perhaps even more importantly, a big part of our mission was to encourage more participation and a healthier lifestyle and it is encouraging to see that happening.
As in any start-up, there were plenty of cynics who predicted we wouldn’t last for 200 editions, never mind 2000, but we have reached this milestone thanks to the incredible hard work, professionalism and dedication to excellence from the entire Sport360 team and quite extraordinary support from you, our audience, and clients. Without you we would not be here today.
Apart from the newspaper, which continues to grow in a challenging market delivering the very latest sports news and expert opinion thanks to our 2am deadlines, and our two websites, one English language and one Arabic, we also run successful awards events and school tournaments which have connected sporting communities like never before. And talking to people on these occasions it is satisfying to hear that we really have made a difference.
Inside today’s special edition wraparound you will find quotes from business and sporting leaders giving their views on Sport360 and throughout this paper you will see more comments from sports stars and celebrities – like Bacary Sagna below – revealing their thoughts on what we have achieved and I thank them all for their kind comments.
The 2,000th issue is still only the foundation for us to build on in the future so on behalf of everybody at Sport360 I would like thank you for your support and hope you stick with us as we expand, improve, innovate and embrace the challenges of a fast-changing sporting landscape with confidence.