The National Basketball Players Association and the NBA need to study concerns – “in a meaningful way that produces real data” – that the grueling pace of the 82-game season poses a risk to players' health and safety before any major decisions can be made regarding protocol or shortening the season, NBPA Executive Director Michele Roberts said.
Player health and the risk of injury has been a popular topic of discussion during recent NBA seasons but the discussion was reignited this week following an extensive report released by ESPN detailing player concerns about the lengthy season.
Recently retired Lakers star Kobe Bryant said that with a more player-friendly schedule, fans would get a better show on the court:
"We can give the fans a greater show. If guys were able to get more rest and were healthier and all this other stuff, you wouldn't have players sitting out games, back-to-backs and all this other shit," Bryant said. "So everyone would get a maximum performance because players would be extremely well-rested and coming in looking to kick ass every single night and looking to put on a show for [the fans] every single night. The product that the fans would get would be better."
In an interview Wednesday afternoon in her office at the NBPA office in Manhattan, Roberts said she sympathizes with fans who buy tickets for games on a night when the star player happens to be sitting out for rest.
"I can sympathize with those fans who buy that one ticket to see LeBron [James] play, and his coach, of course doing the right thing, gives him some rest. We need to figure out ways to not disappoint our fanbase, yet at the same time get players the rest they need," Roberts said. "I applaud all the efforts by reporters to keep the story going, but frankly, we need to get to the bottom of producing some real meaningful data that can help us reconstruct the parameters of our season."
Roberts noted that the NBA — "with our blessing and cooperation" – has reduced the number of back-to-back games and 4-in-5 series, "so there have been efforts to do something about the rest."
An extra day of rest has been added to this year's NBA Finals, something Roberts herself noticed as a necessity when flying back and forth between Oakland and Cleveland last year.
"I went to all the Finals games last year and I was completely exhausted — and I was flying commercial! There have been efforts to try to build in more rest days and frankly it's because the players are saying, 'You're impacting the quality of our work.' And fans are demanding that they not go to games and not see the stars."
Whether or not the NBA should shorten the 82-game season is something Roberts says she can not discuss because it "could be the subject of negotiation," but in a statement provided to ESPN, the NBPA said it would "continue to work with the league to identify potential modifications to the schedule to keep our players rested and healthy so they can perform to the best of their ability for their fans."
"If we need to reduce the season," Roberts said Wednesday, "then everyone knows that impacts money, but let's do it."
In an accompanying report, ESPN says, "The NBA has quietly been gathering mountains of injury data since the 2012-13 season, according to sources with direct knowledge."
"In 2014-15, the league started working with Quintiles, a Durham, N.C.-based health-care company that focuses on data analytics and has recently worked directly with the NFL's medical committees. Quintiles' mission: break the data down."
David Weiss, vice president and assistant general counsel for the NBA, told ESPN that "no trends have been discovered so far."
Roberts says she believes the issue of player health and rest during the season is "actually one I think we're gonna work out," but adds, "I want to do it right. I don't want to do it and then realize that we are relying on anecdotal evidence."