Stern's threat to sanction Spurs a mistake

November, 30, 2012
11/30/12
7:37
AM ET
David SternDerick E. Hingle/US PresswireCan David Stern still punish the Spurs after they nearly upset the Miami Heat?
As fans, what are we owed when we pay for a ticket, or even watch a game at home?

That's the debate NBA commissioner David Stern thrust himself into when he apologized to fans and threatened the San Antonio Spurs with sanctions when it became clear that their top players were sent home to rest after an exhausting road trip.

It's a fine premise and I'm sure not many fans are complaining, but it's not a good business discussion for the league's top executive to initiate.

While the NBA has long marketed specific players over teams in matchups in ticket packages and on television, the league has always maintained that there are no guarantees that when you buy a ticket you'll get to see everyone you thought you'd see.

Just like Broadway, there are no refunds.

That slope has gotten more slippery as teams have shifted to variable pricing, where certain teams who are supposed to be better and feature the best stars cost more on a single-game basis than others.

One could argue that the demand for that ticket is greater, so the seat should cost more. Others could reason that the ticket costs more because of the implied suggestion that it's more entertaining to see the likes of Kobe, LeBron and Kevin Durant.

Stern didn't make the mistake of protecting the fan in this case. It's nice to know he was advocating for the little guy. He was standing up not so much for the season-ticket holder, but for the displaced Spurs fan who showed up in Miami on Thursday night.

(For what it's worth, the Heat make for a bad example because they sold out their season and there aren't many people who bought single-game seats directly from the team.)

Stern's mistake was making the announcement before the game.

What a plot. Team sends four of its top players home to face the defending NBA champs at their place, where they are 6-0 on the season.

The nine Spurs who played minutes Thursday night have a combined salary of $18.4 million. LeBron James alone makes $17.5 million.

And it was playing out in a way that Stern could never have imagined.

In the arena, there was the unexpected nail-biting from Heat fans. Across the country, as word started circulating about Stern's great discontent and the fact that the Spurs were holding their own late into the game, remote controls started changing the channel to the game, which was broadcast nationally on TNT.

Some on Twitter remarked that it was the most NBA minutes they had logged all year. In a strange way, to those who had no rooting interest, the backstory made the game so much more relevant.

The Spurs had the lead until 22 seconds to go in the game when Ray Allen drained a 3. The crowd roared. It didn't look like anyone wanted their money back because they didn't get to see Manu Ginobili slice through the lane or Tim Duncan's under-the-hoop finesse.

In reality, what happened was great for NBA business.

With the stars gone, the show went on -- and what a show it was.

If Stern imposes sanctions on the Spurs, what's his message now? The game was surely entertaining. Who's to say that the game would have been much better had the entire team been in Miami?

If it's to suggest that all players, when being a certain level of "healthy," must play. That's a fine line too that Stern, a lawyer himself, shouldn't be interested in exposing.

In the meantime, lets give the Spurs a Tony, even though sending one home was what started this all.

Darren Rovell | email

ESPN.com Sports Business reporter

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