At the risk of coming off like one of those aging, curmudgeonly sportswriters who long for the good old days and believe modern athletes are too soft, let me offer the following statement:
I miss the good old days when athletes were tougher than a
Sorry, but it's true. Go ahead, take away my typewriter and rotary telephone; steal my fedora hat with the little "press" card sticking out of the band. I'm standing with the old guard on this one.
And by "old guard" I mean John Stockton.
I know, I know. Playing the Stockton card around here isn't exactly a risky move for a sports columnists. Shoot, we're talking about St. John, right? He's got a statue out front of EnergySolutions Arena and a retired jersey inside.
Along the Wasatch Front he'll forever be known not just as John Stockton, but "John Stockton, Greatest Pure Point Guard In NBA History."
Maybe he is, maybe he isn't. But he IS a Hall of Famer and he DOES own the NBA's all-time records for assists and steals.
And he also played in 1,504 regular-season games during his career, including 378 in a row after the age of 35.
Amazingly, from age 36 to 40 he not only appeared in, but started, every possible regular-season game.
Stockton's last season was the 2002-03 campaign, when he played in all 82 games and averaged 27 minutes per outing.
Really, I'm not trying to pander. Rather, I bring up Stockton's name, statistics and remarkable durability only because the care and proper treatment of aging basketball players is currently being debated among NBA know-it-alls.
See, last week San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich made news when he sent star players Tim Duncan (age 36), Manu Ginobili (35) and Tony Parker (30) home in the middle of a recent road trip. He did so because he felt they needed rest at the end of a road trip that had the Spurs playing six games in nine nights.
Rather than play his aging Big Three (plus 25-year-old starter Danny Green) in a nationally-televised game at Miami, Popovich sent them home. In response, commissioner David Stern -- who was at last Thursday's game -- overreacted and issued a terse threat that he'd hit the Spurs with "substantial sanctions."
Friday, the NBA fined the Spurs $250,000. Stern said Popovich and the Spurs did NBA fans a disservice by sending his key players home.
Ultimately, Popovich has to look out for his team's best interest, so if he felt he needed to send Duncan, Ginobili and Parker back home for extra rest, it's his right to do it.
On the other hand, it's Stern's job to look out for the best interest of the NBA as a whole. Having a well-respected team like the Spurs send home three All-Stars in the middle of a long early-season road trip, just to get a little extra rest, does indeed set an odd precedent.
I tend to think Popovich saw a chance to rest his older players while thumbing his nose at Stern and the NBA. It was a calculated move, designed to call attention to what he thinks is an unfair schedule. I also feel Stern's response was reactionary, largely because he felt Popovich and the Spurs had embarrassed him personally.
What's truly laughable in all this mess, however, is that Duncan, Ginobili and even Parker are being cast as old veterans so fragile they're could fall and break a hip at any moment.
It's true, none of them is getting any younger and each has had his body put through the rigors of several NBA seasons. And yet, knowing I must sound like an old fuddy-duddy, I cannot help but asked: Are you kidding? We're only a month into the season and these guys, ranging in age from 30 to 36, are so feeble their coach has to send them back to the rest home for some extra nap time?
Well sure, it may be a wise coaching move that'll pay off six months from now. But it also illustrates the following point: John Stockton was ... one ... tough ... dude.
Now, gimme back my fedora.