A spokesman for the Hornets told The Post the team was not able to confirm that Jordan has given that reminder to his players, but the sentiment would certainly be in keeping with the standard Jordan set during his Hall of Fame career. Over 14 full seasons, not counting a season that saw him return from his baseball sabbatical in March 1995, His Airness played at least 78 of the NBA’s 82-game schedule 12 times in his 14 full seasons, and all 82 nine times.
In the other two seasons, Jordan suffered major injuries while playing on struggling teams (the 1985-86 Chicago Bulls and the 2001-02 Washington Wizards), so it’s safe to assume he wasn’t missing substantial time simply to save his body for the playoffs.
Then there’s another quote from Clifford, who said in 2017, “When I first got in the league [as a scout in 2000], everybody tried to play 82 games. … [Resting players] definitely works for some teams, I understand, but I know, talking to Michael and Patrick [Ewing], they don’t understand it."
Which brings us to the current NBA and its poster-boy for load management, Kawhi Leonard.
Then with the Toronto Raptors, Leonard took the practice of sitting out games to a whole new level last season — and was rewarded for appearing in just 60 regular season contests by leading his squad to an NBA title. Now with the Los Angeles Clippers, Leonard caused a furor by failing to suit up for a nationally televised showdown Wednesday against Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks.
The game was the first of a back-to-back set for the Clippers, just as a game was last week that Leonard happened to miss, and repeatedly sparing him the rigors of playing two games in a row appeared to come straight out the load-management playbook. That could have earned Los Angeles a $100,000 fine, under a policy enacted by the NBA in 2017 in large part as a reaction to San Antonio Spurs Coach Gregg Popovich’s habit of benching his aging stars (Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginóbili) for nationally televised games.
However, the NBA gave the Clippers a pass, saying in a statement Wednesday that the league “is comfortable with the team medical staff’s determination that Leonard is not sufficiently healthy to play in back-to-back games at this time.”
But wait! After the Clippers lost to the Bucks, Coach Doc Rivers told reporters that Leonard “feels great because of what we’ve been doing,” adding, “I think Kawhi made a statement that he’s never felt better. It’s our job to make sure he stays that way.”
Those comments had the NBA slapping a $50,000 fine on the Clippers on Thursday for making statements “that were inconsistent with Leonard’s health status.” In other words, the league was unhappy at being made to look foolish by Rivers, not to mention unhappy that the issue of load management was set to get another round of headlines.
With sharp comments on that issue Wednesday was ABC/ESPN basketball analyst Doris Burke, who said, “Kawhi not playing, to me, is ridiculous at this point.”
“The Clippers obviously have a responsibility to Kawhi, and to winning and long term,” she added, “but the league also, I believe, is and should be concerned that their best players aren’t playing on nights when they’re on national television. The NBA ratings took a hit last year. People tune in, we know this for a fact, because they want to see the stars who are so compelling.”
Noting that Antetokounmpo, the reigning NBA MVP, ranks among the few players as “compelling” as Leonard, Burke said, “When this pinches the NBA, I do not know, but to me, the league has a problem.”
While ratings are a major factor for Burke and her network, Kobe Bryant was more concerned with the in-arena experience when he opined on load management in March.
“There are kids in the crowd and families in the crowd … [and] this will be the only time they get a chance to see you,” said the recently retired Los Angeles Lakers great (via The Athletic), who famously patterned his approach to the game after Jordan. “They save up their hard-earned money to watch you perform. So, if you can walk and perform, get there and perform.”
For his part, Antetokounmpo said in the wake of the Clippers game that when his coach, Mike Budenholzer, tries to rest him in the name of load management, “I try to talk him out of it.”
“If I don’t get my work in, I don’t feel good,” Antetokounmpo told Yahoo Sports. “ … If you don’t harvest your technique, you don’t feel good. You’re not getting a rhythm.”
The Milwaukee star added, “Like Michael Jordan said, hard work eliminates fear.” The actual quote from Jordan was, “Work ethic eliminates fear,” but Antetokounmpo was certainly close enough.
It’s also likely that Clifford, who spent five seasons working under Jordan, heard his boss use at least some version of the “82 games” line. In any event, it seems safe to assume that under Jordan’s management, every Hornet can expect a full load.