There has been a lot of talk about something called load management in the National Basketball Association since earlier in the year when then-Toronto Raptor Kawhi Leonard paced himself during the regular season along the way to a championship title.
The idea is to rest star athletes who grind it out during the regular season so that they have enough fuel in the tank come the all-important playoffs. Imagine for a moment how this concept might translate into other workplaces (more on that a bit later).
“There’s no formula or algorithm” for load management, according to San Antonia Spurs coach Gregg Popovich under whom Leonard played for seven seasons. “You just have to have a feel.” Pop, as he’s nicknamed, is credited with helping develop the load-management concept, which goes hand in glove with the analytics movement sweeping the injury-prone professional sports world.
Fresh legs paid off not only for his team, the first ever to be crowned champs beyond U.S. borders, but also for the star player who was about to become a free agent again and eventually landed with the Clippers in Los Angeles where he commanded a huge salary.
Given how the NBA season is seen as a marathon at 82 games (though it pales in comparison to Major League Baseball at 162), it’s worth noting that Leonard missed 22 games. That’s a pretty significant number for a number of reasons, and Leonard isn’t the only marquee athlete not on injured reserve who is occasionally warming the bench.
Think of the poor fans who shell out hard-earned dollars to see their favorite player in person, and not just the home-town crowd. NBA stars draw attention wherever they go. In Portland, Oregon, where I moved earlier in the year, ticket prices for Blazers games are commensurate with team talent (i.e., it’ll cost more to see the star-laden L.A. Lakers than, say, a largely no-name roster like the Washington Wizards). Also think of how TV ratings must take a hit whenever Leonard or other stars aren’t suiting up. Will viewers still enthusiastically tune in?
Load management is the antithesis of a puritanical work ethic whose athletic roots can be traced to baseball greats Lou Gehrig and Cal Ripken, Jr. whose respective iron-horse reputations for consecutive-game streaks won the hearts and minds of rapid fans. I was fortunate enough to see Jr. play with gusto numerous times at Camden Yards in Baltimore in the years leading up to when he broke Gehrig’s record. It was a thrilling sight, and the record he chased is widely considered one of the greatest feats in all of professional sports.
As a long-time fan, I wonder what the implications are for achieving a personal-best performance during every opportunity to compete. As a father of three, I fret about the message this sends to young athletes. Are we so beholden to analytics that we’ve lost our collective heart to compete along the way?
Having written about the American workplace for decades, I can’t possibly wrap my head around the idea of employees, supervisors or executives sitting out beyond their paid time off. An occasional mental health day may be necessary, but isn’t the goal to suit up and show up for your job with pride and do the best possible job each and every day as long as you’re healthy and gainfully employed?