NBA players overworked?

Kai Ryssdal Nov 2, 2006

KAI RYSSDAL: The NBA season started this week. So there’s still lots of excitement for fans and players. It’s going to be a long haul until the finals next summer. 80 games in the regular season. Then the playoffs on top of that. But some of basketball’s biggest names have already been playing for months. Our business of sports analyst Diana Nyad has that story. Hey Diana . . .

DIANA NYAD: How are you?

RYSSDAL: I’m alright. But you know these NBA guys, the season just started, yet they’re plum tuckered out, it looks like.

NYAD: They do. Dwyane Wade looks tired to me, already, the first game against the Bulls.

RYSSDAL: What’s going on?

NYAD: Well, you know, what happened was, to my mind, 1992 was the first Olympics that we said, “No amateurs, anymore. Let’s make it full on.”

RYSSDAL: The original Dream Team.

NYAD: Yeah, the Dream Team. And, you know, those first few Olympic games it just was wonderful to see our top NBA players be our top Olympic stars. Well, in 2004 Athens we lost. Now, how could the United States lose — and we’ve lost in several international competitions. So we decided, You know what, let’s stop reaching back to the bench. Let’s get those, the big, big all-stars out there again. And, you know, I give a lot of credit . . . This summer we saw our top guys, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, they were all, you know, in the World Basketball Championships. And it was great to see them playing for country but they have such a long season. As you said, they’ve started now — it’s early November, they end in June. This is a game that sucks the wind out of you. And these are huge guys. It’s a full-contact sport at this point.

RYSSDAL: If I own, let’s say, the Cleveland Cavaliers and I’m paying LeBron James whatever it is that they’re paying him — which is tens of bazillions of dollars — I’m a little concerned about injury and getting my money’s worth out of the 80-game NBA season. Forget this whole world championship thing.

NYAD: You bet. And you think about that on the short-term. One year. But what happens in the long run? David Stern, commissioner of the NBA, is always saying — which any league says — you need one star player to carry every team. You need a Shaquille O’Neal. Well, Miami wasn’t worried because when Shaquille O’Neal, who’s getting older, retires Dwyane Wade’s the superstar is there. But now, five years from now, the young Dwyane Wade or the 21-year-old LeBron James, their legs are going to be fatigued. I think they’re already showing signs of it. They’re going to be injured early and they’re going to be out of the league three, four, five years before they should have been. And you know why? Because they’re playing year-round, international competition.

RYSSDAL: Alright, we always say in this country you can’t have it all. But what they’re trying to do here in basketball is have it all. They want them to win the Olympics, the world championships, the NBA title. Is it a zero-sum game between all those three things or is there a way to do it?

NYAD: Well, you know, the depth is so incredible in this country. You know, you look at the guys who ride the bench in the NBA. We do stories about them all the time. We call them that sixth guy. Why don’t we take these guys who need the skill practice, who are just chomping at the bit to get out there, use them in international competition. In the NCAA, when March Madness is over, you know, the top, top guys, OK, the Adam Morrisons of the world, they’re going to go to the NBA and they should suit up and suit up for the teams. A lot of those guys who are fantastic athletes, fantastic players, they’re done in March. Start practicing then. And they’ll have March, April, May, June, July to get ready for world championships and Olympic games in August.

RYSSDAL: What happens, though, if you take the — not the B List guys — but not the A List NBA guys and you don’t win?

NYAD: We took the A List. How could Greece . . .

RYSSDAL: Wait a second . . .

NYAD: Kai, Kai, Kai . . . How could Greece beat LeBron James, Carmello Anthony and Dwyane Wade on the floor at the same time? How could they possibly? You know why? The same way the Yankees lost this year. The exact same way they lost.

RYSSDAL: So, in other words, the best guys aren’t always the best guys.

NYAD: Of course. In team sports we prove that all the time. Get a team that gels. Get a team that’s so hungry that wants to be out there to do it. And let Carmello Anthony be the star of the Denver Nuggets for 10 more years.

RYSSDAL: Diana Nyad and the business of sports. Thanks, Diana.

NYAD: You’re welcome.

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