NBA Team Rests Players, Gets Sued

Late last year, NBA Commissioner David Stern fined the San Antonio Spurs $250,000 for benching its star players for a November 29th game in Miami. As you might recall, Spurs coach Greg Popovich elected to rest star players Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobli, Tony Parker, and Danny Green against the Heat for the last game of 6-game road trip. We here at Abnormal Use refrained from voicing our opinions on the fine because it was not necessarily a legal issue at the time.

Now, Miami lawyer, Larry McGuinness, has made it one – and opened the door for an Abnormal Use critique.

McGuinness filed a class action lawsuit against the Spurs in a Miami-Dade County court over the incident, alleging that the team violated the State of Florida’s unfair trade practices laws. The suit alleges that Popovich “intentionally and surreptitiously” sent the players home without the knowledge of the league. As a result, fans allegedly suffered economic damages in paying a premium price for a ticket. McGuinness, who bought his own ticket to the game on the resale market, compared the situation to a disappointing meal at a steakhouse:

It was like going to Morton’s Steakhouse and paying $63 for porterhouse and they bring out cube steak . . . . That’s exactly what happened here.

We understand the disappointment. No one likes to show up to a game only to discover that a star player is M.I.A. However, our sympathy ends there. From a legal perspective, we question the validity of McGuinness’ suit.  Tickets to sporting events are usually revocable licenses which provide the holder the right to attend a game.  The team can revoke the license at any time, for (essentially) any reason.  It seems illogical to perceive a situation where McGuinness can successfully bring a suit for events that happened within a game when his own license to said game could be unilaterally revoked prior to the game without repercussions.  Moreover, McGuinness has filed suit against the Spurs – not the Heat, the team who issued him the license in the first place.

Even assuming McGuinness has grounds for a cause of action against the Spurs, just how has he and the rest of the class been damaged?  We understand that this was a “premium” game and that fans may have paid a higher ticket price.  However, McGuinness bought his own ticket through the resale market – any premium he paid was not that charged by the team or the NBA.  Sure, he may have been deprived of the opportunity to watch the Spurs’ stars, but he still had the chance to observe Lebron James, Dwayne Wade, and Chris Bosh fine tune their craft.  Even without the Spurs’ stars, the trio struggled to a 105-100 victory.  We wonder if McGuinness would have preferred a Heat loss to a fully-manned Spurs?

From a fan’s perspective, this suit could set an unwanted precedent.  Requiring teams to play – rather than strategically bench – otherwise healthy players will place teams in precarious situations.  Imagine the backlash if star player is injured in a meaningless game against a woeful team simply because he was required to play.  We are thinking most fans would prefer that their favorite players sit for a game if it helps bring home a title. If teams are required to play players, where does the NBA draw the line?  What if a player is medically cleared to play, but wants another day to rest a sprained ankle?  What about a death in the family just before game time?  While it is unlikely that an entire starting lineup would be simultaneously plagued by these conditions, they do arise.  Some fans – like McGuinness – will continue to have their gripes, so should they continue to bring lawsuits?

Again, we understand the frustration of attending a game only to discover a star player is not in attendance.  However, it is a part of the game and a part of the risk involved when purchasing a ticket.

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