Lots of grey haired or balding old-timers or never weres complain about players skipping games for load management. As a grey haired never was who has a slight bald spot, Emmet Ryan feels perfectly suited to explain why the debate isn’t just tired, it’s stupid
We all love a good argument in sports. No question. It’s fun to debate pretty much everything, pretty much being key in the phrasing here. I’m long past tired of the GOAT debate between LeBron and Jordan, especially when it’s far more fun to argue how their games would change if forced to switch eras especially factoring in that the switch would involve them changing their development to take in approaches of each era and not just a straight switch.
Anyway, I digress, I’d take an eternity of MJ fans and LeBron stans bombarding me with such debates if it meant we could put a stop to all the chatter about load management these days. It has even become a thing around NBA awards, although it already will likely prove impractical in many parts.
It’s not even about the science, actually arguing the science is somewhat the problem for those on the pro-load management debate. They’re trying to raise the bar of the debate, a noble but foolish approach.
Load management opponents go beyond not caring for science and analytics, it’s in their interest to wholly ignore them and laugh at the nerds who espouse them. Fine, let them, hit them where it really matters. There’s only one question that matters when it comes to debating load management.
Does it help you win?
Yup, that’s it.
With the exception of competitions that are solely single elimination based, like national cups, and a few leagues where the championship is decided by the regular season (oh Ireland, at least the women’s Super League is still keeping it real), there’s really no argument against this.
Not every regular season game carries the same weight of importance. Few, in all honesty, are uniquely important in their own right. If I have a rookie who is used to playing only so many games of college ball and ask them to jump to a pro schedule, they are going to naturally tire out a bit more late in the season. They might look fresh but the brain is part of how we play basketball and that is going to need to catch up for most ballers.
Similarly, if a key player is nearer 40 than 30 years of age and a team wants them at their best for the games that matter, ie the ones that help win a championship, then that team knows that doing something that leads to less cumulative fatigue…wait that nearly got sciencey…something that makes them less tired is probably a good thing.
So we get the memes of Gerald Henderson playing in a neck brace, which happened because he was a rookie afraid of being cut. Wilt Chamberlain playing every minute of a season almost, save for getting ejected in one game, which spoke as much to how the Philadelphia Warriors had absolutely zero support for him (it was the same year as his 100 point game) despite Wilt almost single-handedly carrying them to a finals, and more of how the sport was better back in X or Y’s day.
Then there’s the small matter of not all teams being created equal. In Europe, that’s down to straight up financial might most of the time. Elsewhere, it’s usually down to whoever has built a better roster within a cap. Either way, contenders tend to want to be at their best and deepest come the…say it with me…games that matter.
That means it’s a good idea to have more players in your rotation with enough minutes under their belt to not be coming in cold entering the postseason, which incentivises playing starters less, and kinda hoping the fringe playoff sides have to play theirs more to wear them out. Thinning the herd as it were.
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But the fans?
For the fans that travel in or those that can’t afford to go to more than a game or two a season for their local team, it obviously stinks. I certainly fit the former bracket. At best, if everything goes to plan, I’ll get to two NBA regular season games in a year and (when not researching a book) less than a handful of games in Europe outside of the Euroleague Final Four.
There’s a risk for me whenever I travel that the big names won’t play and, with the NBA in particular, I usually have to pick what game I am travelling to see months in advance. It’s a gamble, I get that but let’s not pretend the leagues have ever really cared about these rare one-off fans.
They want to maximise revenue and, while stars not being guaranteed can reduce regular season income it pales in comparison to what can be gained with playoff income. It’s sad but true and there’s nothing we can do about that.
Here’s the wild thing
So, as I was thinking about this I realised something. I was in a team that practiced load management, I just had never thought about it before. I played hurling, an Irish sport involving a stick that Jason Statham once summarised as a cross between hockey and murder, anyway I played it as a kid and I was bad, like not historically poor at the sport but guaranteed to not play in any games that mattered.
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Well in the 1999 season I played a whole heap of games and it was because of a form of load management we didn’t even think about it. The system was simple, clubs and counties. Well my team had a bunch of dudes who were on county panels, other sides did too, and for the bulk of the season those star guys of ours basically didn’t play. At all. They just didn’t feature because even when they didn’t have games on the county panel they were expected to not turn out for us because of the injury risk (again, a cross between hockey and MURDER, I loved playing this sport).
So, come the games that mattered, they all came back to the squad. They even played the last couple of games that didn’t matter before then. Most of the games that didn’t matter, as in the ones I played in, we lost. Come the games that matter, can you guess what happened? We won the freaking championship. First time the club had at that level (we call it minor but it’s basically U18) ever. Unreal. Load management that was forced upon us ended up being a good thing.
Now you might say that I am cherry picking an example to suit my cause and you’re completely right but what do you think the old moaners are doing when the Henderson meme goes around?
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