Many people in the basketball community have expressed their discontent with star NBA players who sit out games. Players opt to sit out of games to rest for what they would consider “higher-pressure games.” People have criticized this for a plethora of reasons. Magic Johnson’s criticism was twofold: first, he ridiculed the idea that players would sit at all. He claimed that the idea was unheard of during his time in the league, simply due to the players’ love of the game. His second criticism centered on the fans’ experience. He said, “[i]t hurts those fans and the parents who have worked hard to bring their kids to the arena to see their favorite player, and then they’re not playing.” Johnson took aim at the players from two sides of the same coin, that the players are not upholding the integrity of the game. The league continues to look for ways to address load management that allows players to get adequate rest while incentivizing playing in as many games as possible.
As load management has become increasingly prevalent in the league, sports betting has become legal throughout a majority of the country. The NBA is a star driven league, as teams’ success largely hinges on the performance of their stars. When stars sit out of games, it can have a major impact on sports betting. If the Milwaukee Bucks sit their starters in a game against the Detroit Pistons, what would normally be considered an easy win can suddenly become a close game.
Betting lines are often set with the assumption that teams will have their full rosters available, especially if a team has no known injuries heading into game day. Gamblers find it much tougher to make educated decisions when betting on games if star players can opt out without warning. There could be some major licensing implications down the line for the NBA. It signed major deals with DraftKings and FanDuel, making them both the NBA’s official sports betting partners. Load management issues open up the potential for conflict between the NBA and its sports betting partners, as the league fails to address issues that complicate sports betting and upset their partners’ clientele.
Sports betting is not the end of the line for those gambling on sports, however. Fantasy team owners possibly face a greater challenge than those betting on individual games. While sports bettors deal with day-to-day changes, they can still avoid a good portion of load management issues by paying close attention to roster activity before making bets. Fantasy owners face the challenge of drafting stars at the beginning of the season, only to be faced with load management issues throughout the season. This can cost fantasy owners points and money.
The NBA has taken some steps to try and curtail load management issues. The newest Collective Bargaining Agreement requires players to play in at least 65 games to be eligible to win regular season awards, like the MVP. However, load management’s main goal is to rest players so teams have the best chance of winning a championship. Players who manage their playing time are likely to forego these types of awards if their sacrifice allows their team a shot at a title.
There are many components of load management that the NBA has to address moving forward. The NBA certainly holds player safety as one of its top priorities. However, sports betting issues are still significant points of concern that arise from load management. As the NBA moves to address the issue of load management, it will likely have the interest of sports bettors somewhere on its radar.
 Supra note 6.
[Photo] Photo courtesy of ESPN broadcast.