Michael Jordan is still upheld as the exemplar of a mythical era.
The way some people tell it, Jordan played every minute of every game, took the entire offensive burden, always defended the best opponent, never relented during the regular season then carried his team through the playoffs to a championship. Every year. And slayed a dragon, for good measure.
Magic coach Steve Clifford, who previously coached the Jordan-owned Hornets, relayed Jordan’s point of view.
Clifford, via Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News:
Being with Michael in Charlotte, Michael used to tell them every year, you’re paid to play 82 games.
No wonder Charlotte usually misses the playoffs. (These jokes just write themselves.)
Also: Michael Jordan took two years off in his prime!
That’s not to say Jordan wasn’t tough. He absolutely was. He played all 82 games nine times, and his effort level was consistently high. He should be commended for that.
But – no matter how people romanticize a few hard fouls – the game was not as physically demanding back then. Players generally weren’t as athletic. They didn’t run and cut as quickly. They didn’t jump as high and land as hard.
Jordan was an exception – an elite athlete in any era. That’s why he shouldn’t be the standard for how to optimize other players.
The best science indicates rest is generally helpful. The 82-game schedule – especially for high-minute, high-workload players – is too long. Pushing through that isn’t the best preparation for a long playoff run, the ultimate goal of many teams.
There are drawbacks to resting players. They don’t get as many reps to develop, both individually and chemistry with teammates. A mindset of playing all 82 games can also instill a helpful edge in players.
But it just doesn’t seem those benefits are worth the cost of the wear and tear.
Of course, there’s a bigger debate. As Jordan says, players are paid based on a full schedule. Fans buy tickets to every game. TV networks buy rights to every game. Even if an individual team is optimizing its own championship chances, resting players could jeopardize the value of the overall product. The more teams that embrace rest, the larger the problem becomes. The NBA is headed toward even more of a crisis point with that tradeoff.
Thankfully for the league for now, there are still some old-school thinkers like Jordan in charge.