I can empathize with the fans who paid good money to watch Cavaliers superstar LeBron James take a healthy night off this season.
They came to see James and instead got DeAndre Liggins.
I once came to see Jed Buechler and got Michael Jordan.
It’s pretty much the same thing, no?
OK, let me explain: Before moving to Ohio, I lived for a time outside New York City and the Knicks were my team.
Each year, my dad — who worked for the Associated Press — would venture to Madison Square Garden the morning tickets went on sale for the upcoming season. He waited in line for a couple of hours, then snagged a few nosebleed seats to whichever game hadn’t yet been picked clean by the scalpers and crazies who spent the night camped outside the arena.
By the time he reached the ticket window in 1994, the pickings were slimming. The Magic? Sold out. Pacers? Nope. Rockets? Keep dreaming.
My dad settled for a Tuesday night game in late March against the Bulls. Which was great — the games in that era always were — but hardly remarkable. Remember, Jordan was still playing baseball in his second year of retirement from the NBA.
Well, yada, yada, swing batta, and, next thing you know, we’ve got the hottest ticket of the season. A week before our annual trip to the Garden, Jordan returned to the Bulls. We watched him score 55 points in one of the enduring performances of his gilded career.
It was incredible.
Now where was I again? Right, life is unfair!
Sorry, this is an awful comparison, but I suppose the point remains. Sports tickets should feature the same fine print familiar to theatergoers: Understudies might fill in for stars — or, once in a lifetime, vice versa. (We’ve been on the other side plenty, too.)
This brings us back to James and his rest. He needs a lot more of it.
For as much as it will sour some fans in the short term, the Cavs must see the bigger picture.
They must be willing to sacrifice wins in February and March for June glory. Their instinct might be to ride James even harder now that Kevin Love is out six weeks with a bum knee. But with the 14-year veteran continuing to rack up mileage at a historic rate — he is averaging a league-high 37.5 minutes per game this season — the blueprint should be just the opposite.
Less minutes, more nights off.
Yes, we can already hear the outcry, just as we did after the three games James was a healthy scratch earlier this year. Sitting millionaire stars for the sake of ... rest? That’s a hard sell and goes against our basest competitive instincts. Especially those of James, who said this week, “I’ll rest when I retire.”
But Cleveland needs to play the long game here.
James has already logged more career minutes than Jordan, and played roughly 2,500 more minutes than anyone else over the past six-plus seasons. He is not getting any younger.
Forget about playoff seeding. James could win the Eastern Conference with Larry, Curly, and Mo Williams. The only opponent that truly matters is the Warriors. If Cleveland wants to keep its crown, its highness must be rested and healthy.
The critics should take a seat.
And so should James.