Minnesota Timberwolves’ first-time All-Star Anthony Edwards would like NBA players to play more and sit less during the NBA season. Edwards is being hailed as “refreshing” and the “people’s champ” on #NBATwitter. But he’s not helping the discourse around the issue of “load management.” He’s only adding fodder for bad-faith actors and a league that needs to change the way it delivers its product.
“All the guys sitting, resting. That’s the only thing I probably don’t like. Just play, man. If you 80%, you gotta play. I don’t like all the sitting, missing games stuff. These people might have enough money to come to one game. And that might be the game they come to and you sitting out.”
It would be wonderful to live in a world where NBA players played hard all 82 games, plus the playoffs and never had to rest for any reason. But that’s not reality. This is a high-intensity, contact sport. The best professional basketball league in the world, and it takes a toll on your body to do this night in and night out.
Players load managed back in the day too
Before you basketball “purists” say “back in my day, players didn’t load manage.” Sorry to break it to you, but they did.
Sure players in the 1980s and 1990s may have suited up and been on the floor more regularly. But were they going hard all 82? No.
Go watch a random regular season game from any of those eras and see if guys are going hard for the full 48 minutes.
They’re not. That’s a form of load managing.
The problem we have in sports is the prevailing macho culture that says playing hurt is somehow a sign of toughness. Sure. Demonstrating your ability to play while hurt or injured might mean you have an extraordinarily high pain tolerance.
It’s also really stupid.
Evolution is a natural part of life and being sentient beings on earth. It’s OK that things evolve and change over time. We used to live without electricity and indoor plumbing.
Sports science and medicine has evolved too and that’s a wonderful thing. It’s the reason athletes can play at their peak levels as they advance in age much later than previous generations.
If LeBron James was drafted No. 1 overall in 1983, there is no way he’d have played as well and as long into 2003.
Hall of Famer Clyde Drexler was drafted in 1983 and played 15 seasons. He wasn’t an All-NBA caliber player in those last few seasons. He was famous and made an All-Star team but he was far from elite and among the 98th percentile in the league.
Talent and desire are also factors in LeBron’s longevity to be sure, but we understand the human body and performance in 2023 in ways that were unimaginable in 1983. That’s just a fact.
If you watch an NBA game from the 1980s or 1990s and then watch a game from this era you’ll notice another difference.
The game has evolved so should our thinking
The game is different and played in more space.
Back then all 10 players on the floor converged into the small space below the three point line, with many players limited to the paint and the area just outside.
Today players have to race out to the three point line and beyond while fighting over screens.
Sure, fighting over a Bill Laimbeer, Anthony Mason, Mark Eaton or Robert Parrish screen was tough.
Is it tougher than fighting over a Steven Adams, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Joel Embiid, or Draymond Green screen? Then having to chase out to Stephen Curry or try and catch Ja Morant?
The modern game is more taxing on the physical body than it was in previous generations. The players in the NBA are better athletes now and they are far more skilled.
Players today aren’t less tough than in previous eras, despite what Edwards and people like Charles Barkley, Stephen A. Smith or any of the other “purists” would have you believe.
The players today want to play, teams have employed performance and sports science teams that provide coaches and front offices with more data about the likelihood of increased injury.
The No. 1 predictor of future injury is previous injury. Ask any credible sports medical professional or sports scientist.
Do you know how many injuries occur, particularly non-contact injuries? They happen because of fatigue.
Do you know how fatigue happens? Exceeding the maximum load your body can handle over a specific period of time.
Teams are made aware of these factors and that instructs when and how a player rests over the course of an 82-game regular season.
If you think players today don’t already play at less than 100 percent then you don’t watch games, understand science, or truly understand what these athletes go through to compete at the highest level of the sport.
Comments like this from Edwards and Barkley and other players are not only misinformed, but they’re dangerous. Bad-faith actors who love to use sports in larger cultural and political wars, often deride the “laziness” of the multimillionaire Black athlete and use it as a proxy for more nefarious ends.