Detroit — Caveat emptor. Let the buyer beware.
The term usually doesn’t apply to sports teams, but it’s become part of the new normal in the NBA, and not just because of the pandemic. There’s no popular Latin saying for “load management,” but it would fit appropriately in the discussion of buying tickets for sporting events.
For years, fans have purchased tickets for NBA games hoping to see their favorite stars, only to be disappointed when that player takes a night off for load management or to rest a nagging injury. The issue has been in the spotlight this week as some disgruntled fans voiced their displeasure when Golden State Warriors stars Steph Curry and Draymond Green were among four rotation players who didn’t play against the Pistons on Friday night.
Because the Pistons only play teams from the Western Conference at Little Caesars Arena once each season, there’s a premium on getting tickets for the marquee games to see stars such as Curry, LeBron James, Luka Doncic and Damian Lillard. For that reason, those tickets aren’t cheap.
Fans lamented on social media that they paid hefty prices for tickets to see Curry and the Warriors, and the ultimate dismay that came from finding out that he and Green were sitting out.
But there’s a modicum of research and preparation that has to go with paying that ticket premium, and that involves checking the schedule and the injury report.
The Warriors have the best record in the NBA, and they played on Thursday night in Cleveland, when Curry scored 40 points, with nine 3-pointers. He’s been nursing a hip injury, so given those factors, it was highly unlikely that he’d play on the second night of a back-to-back.
After the game had started, Curry emerged from the locker room and walked to the Warriors bench, to a chorus of cheers and appreciation from fans wearing various versions of his jerseys. It was an acknowledgment of his superstardom to get such a welcome in a visiting arena, but it also came with the disappointment that he wouldn’t be playing.
It was a similar scenario in the leadup to Sunday’s marquee matchup against the Los Angeles Lakers, as LeBron James was listed as questionable because of an abdominal injury. James played Friday at Boston, but he had missed the previous eight games. The likelihood of him playing back-to-back games in a three-day span was small, but possible.
Of course, there’s no way of knowing about injuries when the schedule is released in the offseason. For most fans, the instinctive reaction is to look at the schedule and buy the tickets — but even in those scenarios, it’s just about hoping that things work out and that injuries, load management or some other factor won’t keep the stars from playing.
It’s similar to baseball season, when some fans look to align the schedules so that they can see their favorite pitcher. In Justin Verlander’s heyday with the Tigers, it was “must-see JV” because he potentially could throw a no-hitter in any of his outings. Wisdom prevailed in that day and age, when fans would look at the pitching rotations and try to calculate when Verlander likely would be pitching.
It’s a shame that it takes so much to decide when to buy tickets, but that’s the nature of the game now — and that’s what smart money does.
As it was, Friday’s game was one of the rare announced sellouts on the Pistons’ schedule. Fans were excited about having the league’s best team in town, and even if the Lakers aren’t in that same sphere, seeing James play in front of fans for the first time in a while brings its own juice.
The momentum continues Tuesday when the Pistons play host to the Miami Heat before hitting the road for fives games, against the defending-champion Bucks, then heading west to face the Los Angeles Clippers, the Lakers, Portland Trail Blazers and Phoenix Suns.
It’s another tough chunk of the schedule, which has been somewhat unforgiving for the Pistons, shown by their lackluster start. Their strength of schedule has been one of the toughest in the league throughout the first part of the season, which was expected.