NBA is a business: Load management helps teams protect valuable investments


Courtesy of Chensiyuan

Kawhi Leonard prepares for a free throw during his lone season with the Toronto Raptors. Leonard believes that sitting out games played a factor in the team’s title run.

The NBA is a business– a multi-billion dollar business. The NBA is greater than a simple ball game between ten people, it is a brand. The NBA is television deals, merchandise, ticket sales and community outreach. 

Players are assets for their respective teams. They’re the ones that personify the NBA’s magic. Players are the ones whose jersey is sold. Players are the ones who draw high attendances at games. Players are the ones who sign autographs. But, NBA players aren’t the ones who assume the biggest risk– team owners do.

On Nov. 6, Los Angeles Clippers small forward  Kawhi Leonard sat out in a nationally-televised game against the Milwaukee Bucks as part of a load management program. This was the first game of a back-to-back game stint for the Clippers. Leonard sitting out drew the ire of fans who felt cheated out of their money.

According to ESPN, load management is a program employed by NBA teams to monitor the physiological stress (or load) a player endures doing any number of activities. Leonard has been on a load management program since the 2017-2018 season when he suffered from tendinopathy in his right quad as a San Antonio Spur, per ESPN. 

Last season, Leonard played in approximately 70 percent of the Toronto Raptors regular season games. Leonard’s Raptors also won the NBA championship and Leonard himself was the Finals MVP. 

The Raptors organization knew that Leonard was the cornerstone of their championship team. The Raptors knew that if they wanted to win their first franchise championship, they needed a healthy Leonard. They protected their investment and nobody said a word. So why are people complaining now?

Location, location, location. Yes, Leonard is now located in prime real estate– Los Angeles. In a city that traditionally bleeds purple and gold for the Lakers, the Clippers are predicted to make a serious run into the playoffs. Media coverage is more extensive– national media coverage.

According to Business Insider, ESPN’s Doris Burke criticized Leonard for sitting out a marquee matchup so early in the season citing lower television ratings. Burke is employed by ESPN, the NBA’s national television broadcast partner for the Clippers’ game against the Bucks. As witnessed from the China fiasco, the NBA doesn’t want to upset its partners, particularly its television partners. 

 Why are the Clippers deciding to keep Leonard on a load management program?

It pays for a team to be NBA champion. According to the South Florida SunSentinel, winning the NBA title guarantees a bonus from the league, increases ticket and merchandise sales, endorsement contracts and tourism.

Los Angeles has plenty of visitors, but a Clippers championship ring would definitely increase the franchise’s popularity.

Money is made on the back end of the season. When games start to actually matter. When teams are playing for money and not just bragging rights. 

As Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban said, “I’m all for load management. Worse than missing a player in a [regular-season] game is missing him in the playoffs.”