What’s a Coach to Do? Teach Ethics!

News flash: star players are treated differently than bench sitters.

If we have surprised you with that observation, please let us know. In fact, we have a bridge we’d like to sell you along with a classic Ford Pinto and a case of White Coke.

Stan Van GundyAs for the news flash, no matter your game of choice, the star player almost always gets star treatment. Is it fair? Depends of course; always depends, and we’re not talking adult diapers. Teams and leagues often peg their status to the exceptional human beings who can do the things we mere mortals cannot hope to do. We buy their tickets and their fast food to watch them.

Star treatment is a refined art, especially when it comes to professional basketball. The NBA has a spotlight on its marquee players that has no equal in the world of sports. Is it right? Hard to say, but going back to way before the Pinto and the Corvair, we can guess where the league might have been before their stars: a distant second to the collegiate game, that’s where.

Here is where the problem creeps in, and we’ll call it perspective.

To Head Coach Stan Van Gundy of the Pistons, the officials are making calls in favor of the Cavalier’s star player, LeBron James. In fact, in a recent interview to ESPN’s Lisa Salters in regard to the playoffs, Van Gundy said:

“A couple calls have upset our guys. They’ve got to understand, LeBron’s LeBron. They’re not going to call offensive fouls on him. He gets to do whatever he wants. They’ve got to understand that.”

His comments cost him $25,000. We’re not crying over Van Gundy’s fine. The coach makes about $7 million a year – and that doesn’t include appearance fees, clinics, signings and all of the commercial work. When all is said and done, we also doubt if most it comes out of his pocket. We get that he is protecting his guys; rookie Stanley Johnson in particular, who is trying to defend LeBron. LeBron James did not take the bait. He basically said, “shut up and play.”

Van Gundy should know better. The Cavaliers, a #1 seed, went 57-25, while Van Gundy’s Pistons were a #8 seed, with a 44-38 record. The only teams with more wins than Cleveland were Golden State and San Antonio. When all was said and done, LeBron had some help over the regular season and not because the officiating was always in his favor. Basketball, you see, is a team sport.

Works both Ways?

To not sound simplistic or naïve, star players are afforded star treatment. Everyone knows that, including Van Gundy. His players know it too. So do the towel boys and the locker room attendants, the trainers and the guy who smears mustard on your $8.50 hot dogs.

The final score of game 1 was Cleveland 106 and Detroit 101; Irving and Love scored more points than James, and that’s the way it goes. In that game, with the exception of the second quarter, Detroit was outscored in all of the other quarters.

If Detroit wants to make it to the next round, the answer seems simple enough: score more points.

We believe that sports are aspirational. This is where the ethics part of this discussion comes into play. College kids are looked up to by high school kids and on and on down the line. Van Gundy was venting the obvious to the media, but if in the off-season Detroit acquires a superstar, I hope he understands these things work both ways when his opponents whine. In terms of aspirations, whether it’s Podunk High School or the Detroit Pistons, the way to win is to play the game your hardest, coach great and do your best.

Do officials screw up? Yes, all the time. They also screw up (again) both ways. Get over it. The last thing we need are more entitled kids who are hanging onto Stan’s words that his Detroit team was robbed of an NBA championship because a few calls went in LeBron’s direction. The very last thing we need are more kids whining to their coaches that life is unfair because some official in a striped shirt who refuses to be their parent tells them they committed a foul.

Every year there’s hundreds if not thousands of upsets. It’s why no one cares about your stupid brackets. By the way, we have never heard one underdog whine that they didn’t deserve to win.

So Mr. Van Gundy, figure out how your #8 seed can beat the #1 seed if you can, but whining the obvious to the media doesn’t play and doesn’t help.


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