When Gregg Popovich decided to rest four of his best players against the Heat on Thursday his farsightedness was in play on two levels: 1) At the end of a long road trip Duncan, Ginobili and Parker, all on the wrong side of 30, would benefit greatly from an extra day of rest and 2) Pop wanted to prove that his reserves could compete with the reigning NBA champs.

It was a genius move meant to preserve the aging bodies of his stars and instill confidence in his bench. And as you probably know by now, David Stern wants to punish him. Tyranny restored, David. Well done.

Stern's "apology" to NBA fans, the poor souls forced to watch a hard-fought and extremely competitive game, was not only ridiculous but made clear what we as basketball fans have known for a long time, namely that Stern cares nothing about the game itself and only the entertainment value that the NBA provides.

Stern's autocratic gesture got me thinking about a very small, mostly unnoticed news story from a few of weeks ago ...

Nov. 9 marked the first time in more than five years that former NBA ref Tim Donaghy attended a professional basketball game. Instead of prancing down the sideline with a whistle, he was seated in the bleachers, wearing normal clothes, totally incognito.

A half-decade after Donaghy ruined his life by betting on his livelihood he watched the Knicks host the Mavericks in Madison Square Garden while studying for his new job at Danny Biancullo's handicapping site "dannybwins.com."

On the surface the career move seems like a recovering alcoholic taking a job as a sommelier, but in reality the "consulting" gig was the only offer Donaghy had on the table after his probation ended on Nov 4.

It shouldn't come as a surprise to any NBA fan that reputable companies aren't clamoring for Donaghy's professional services. His name will never be worth the baggage. Tim will probably end up opening a store in Vegas next to Pete Rose and sell autographed posters of Danny Crawford and Steve Javie making double-dribbling calls.

Dear Kid,
If it makes you feel better, I don't know what the hell a Defensive Three Seconds is either.
All the best,
Steve Javie

But now that the dust has settled on the scandal and the league has long gone back to business as usual, I realize something: I believe Tim Donaghy. I believe all the things he said in his 60 Minutes interview. I believe the claims he made in his book. I believe the accusations he described in a four-page letter to Brooklyn's United States District Court in 2008 in which he claimed that NBA executives directed referees "to manipulate games" to "boost ticket sales and television ratings."

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The National Hockey League owners and players have performed a magic trick that would leave David Copperfield speechless. They have taken a profitable and exciting 2011-12 season that brought them increased attendance, television ratings and exposure, topped by a captivating battle between teams in the nation's two largest media markets and managed to disappear the following season into thin air. NFL playoff races are heating up. The battle for BCS supremacy and bowl game positioning in college football is at its peak. The NBA season has started to take shape, and we move toward the holiday season. Does anyone really care the NHL remains in lockout?

Hockey witnessed the transformation of Major League Baseball following a disastrous strike in 1994, which dropped attendance by 40 percent and left owners bemoaning whether it was possible to operate a profitable franchise. This object lesson led to labor peace in the years since. Major League Baseball has quadrupled its gross receipts since the last labor dispute, through skyrocketing television revenue, fantasy baseball, new stadia, merchandising and increased attendance.

Hockey saw the damage that the NBA lockout did to the early season in 2011 and how the sport managed to resurrect with a post Thanksgiving agreement. Hockey has watched the dominance that the NFL has achieved by focusing on building its brand -- an average franchise value of more than a billion dollars, Top 5 Nielsen ratings for nighttime games, an NFL Network, fantasy leagues and new stadia brimming with opportunities for naming rights, sponsorship and luxury boxes. Hockey has had an object lesson in why labor peace is critical -- and they have learned nothing.

The real battle for professional sports has never been the competition between labor and management. The true competition for the NHL is the NFL, NBA, Home Box Office, movie theatres, Walt Disney World, and every other form of discretionary entertainment spending. If players and management can compromise on equitable formulas, they can then focus on building their brand and generating revenue. It is by creatively developing new ways to popularize a sport with consumers and using every creative effort to build ancillary revenue streams from multiple forms of content and product that a massive pie is created that will be relatively simple to carve up.

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The fans are the ultimate employer. Fans come to sport to escape the problems of real life. If they are fed an unremitting diet of contract hassles and the specter of millionaires squabbling with billionaires in tough economic times -- they are alienated and pushed away from their allegiance and excitement about a sport.

I learned early in my representation career that the easiest way to insure maximum compensation for players was to work with owners to insure their maximum profitability.

I wrote a book on negotiation, Winning With Integrity, which emphasized a constructive process based on mutual interest, which would insure a "win-win" outcome. One of the important concepts was not to get so caught in the detail as to forget the ultimate goal of the negotiation -- in this case maximizing NHL player and owner economics. What was needed here was a deadline, a willingness to commit to solution before the very length of the discussions led to economic self-destructiveness. PT Barnum's maxim "The Show Must Go On" is relevant here.

The NHL has never had the U.S. exposure and popularity to provide maximum national or local television revenue or equal status with the other three high profile professional team sports. Every time hockey gains in popularity and geographical reach in this country, a harmful negotiating process comes along to stunt its growth by keeping the games from being played.

The NHL has announced the cancellation of games until mid-December and the January 21 All Star Game. What major sport cancels its All Star game or pulls itself out of arenas and off the air for months? The difference in economic positions is $56 million per year -- these cancellations and the damage to the future of the sport will soon make that seem de-minimus. There is a battle over guaranteed percentage of revenue and maximum length of contracts. If the owners had simply played under the old system with no cancellations, they would have been better off.

Another corollary of "Winning With Integrity" is that when there is a deadlock and parties think things can't get worse -- things can always get worse. The Players Association is contemplating decertification, just as the NFLPA did. This removes the forum from NLRB jurisdiction and moves the battle into the courtroom. Management cannot declare an "impasse" and institute their own rules and systems. The attorneys for the union can still negotiate. But the process will dramatically slow down and imperil the chance for a 2012-13.

The Kings won the Stanley Cup last season and have an appealing team. There was excitement in Southern California, the nation's second largest market, that could have been built on to make major advances in NHL popularity. There are no marches on the Staples Center by angry fans demanding the return of the NHL. Local talk shows have nary a caller raising the issue. The NHL has done a disappearing act and soon very few will care.

-- Leigh Steinberg has represented many of the most successful athletes and coaches in football, basketball, baseball, hockey, boxing and golf, including the first overall pick in the NFL draft an unprecedented eight times, among more than 60 first-round selections. His clients have included Hall of Fame quarterbacks Steve Young, Troy Aikman and Warren Moon, and he served as the inspiration for the movie "Jerry Maguire." Follow him on Twitter @SteinbergSports.

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The Los Angeles Lakers shocked the sports world on Friday when they fired second-year coach Mike Brown after only five games in the 2012-13 NBA season. The Lakers have been the epitome of a stable franchise known for their deliberate and astute decision making.

Newly acquired point guard Steve Nash, expected to make a major impact, has been injured for most of the games and is not expected back. New center, Dwight Howard is recovering from back surgery and is only able
to perform at roughly 70 percent of his normal capacity. The staff has installed a new "Princeton offense" that the players are still in the process of adjusting too.

With all of these challenges, fans had been warned from the beginning that it would take some time to gel. The team lost all eight of their preseason games -- but appeared to use them as a chance to view different combinations of players rather than focusing on victory. It lost four of the first five games, but the NBA season consists of a prolonged regular season spreading 82 games through many months and lengthy rounds of playoffs. So why weren't the Lakers patient with the development process?

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The Lakers have always been a unique franchise owned by unique owners. Jack Kent Cooke assembled three megastars in the Forum -- Jerry West, Elgin Baylor and Wilt Chamberlain, and the team competed for the championship every year. They were colorful and talented -- "The Greatest Show on Earth" with mercurial Cooke as the ringmaster and they knew their market -- Los Angeles, Tinseltown. Los Angeles loves
stars and spectacle. Movie stars are stars and we look for athletes to provide the same level of excellence and showmanship. Having grown up here, I know we are a city of frontrunners (except for the Dodgers), looking for the next hot happening.

Jerry Buss knew this when he purchased the team in 1979 and he assembled his favorite team -- the one that ran "Showtime." Led by Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and James Worthy, the Lakers played electrifying fast break basketball and dazzled the fans. They had attractive, marketable stars, and their rivalry with the Celtics was magical. Coach Pat Riley was telegenic and flashy. This led to the 10 NBA championships for the Buss regime.

Along the way, the Lakers started to compete with the Dodgers for the heart of Southern California sports fans. The most expensive seats sold first, ticket prices were hiked dramatically and sponsorships soared. They were hot! When "Showtime" aged, a new cast of superstars replaced it. Jerry West arranged trades for the draft rights to Kobe Bryant and signed Shaquille O'Neal. They had a massive MVP center with a charming personality and gift for gab and the best young player in the game. Phil Jackson, the best coach in NBA history added to the championships. When Shaq left, they drafted Andrew Bynum, a talented young center, and traded for Pau Gasol, an all-pro forward.

Jerry Buss has groomed his son Jim to replace him in day-to-day operations assisted by astute General Manager Mitch Kupchak. Jerry has always understood the market he operates and insisted on exacting standards and goals. He expects the Lakers to have the opportunity to compete for the NBA Championship each and every year. They expect to have a roster starring the most accomplished, exciting players in the
game. And they expect the team to play entertaining basketball.

They charge the second highest ticket price in the NBA. The Lakers charge roughly $100 a ticket, which are premium prices. Their new local television package with Time-Warner pays them $200 million a year, arguably the highest in the NBA. And they knew the on-court formula necessary to trigger the fan frenzy necessary to feed all of their revenue streams.

After losing the second round of the playoffs in back-to-back season, the Buss family knew it was time to act decisively. They traded for veteran point guard Steve Nash who they knew could feed the ball to Bryant and power forward Pau Gasol and revitalize the offense. And they arranged a trade for the best center in the game Dwight Howard and shipped off moody and undependable Andrew Bynum.

They viewed the early returns on Mike Brown's "Princeton offense" and the fact that they were 26th in NBA defense and went back to core principles. They decided that even if players adjusted to the new offense and started to win that it blunted the strengths of key stars and even worse, it was boring. Their payroll is the league's largest at $100 million, which gives them a luxury tax of $30 million. Against those economic realities they didn't blink at the prospect of buying out the last three years of Mike Brown's $11 million contract.

Jerry Buss is 78 and wants to spend his last years watching the type of basketball that he and his fans love. Get ready for some Showtime!

-- Leigh Steinberg has represented many of the most successful athletes and coaches in football, basketball, baseball, hockey, boxing and golf, including the first overall pick in the NFL draft an unprecedented eight times, among more than 60 first-round selections. His clients have included Hall of Fame quarterbacks Steve Young, Troy Aikman and Warren Moon, and he served as the inspiration for the movie "Jerry Maguire." Follow him on Twitter @SteinbergSports.

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Why would any cautious parents allow their child to play youth tackle football at the tender age of 9, 10 or 11? Football is the collision sport that carries the highest risk of injury to every bodily joint. Played long enough, it methodically destroys the knee, shoulder, hip, elbows and back of active participants. The young body is still in the process of development and growth, and the wrong injury can retard or permanently alter the growth curve.

Why let kids play? Because football can build character and teach invaluable life skills and build self esteem. At least until the wrong parents bring the ugliest of real world forces into play to ruin it.

Football can teach valuable virtues. It promotes self-discipline and postponement of current pleasure for future success. It builds incredible team chemistry and camaraderie and helps players function within a cooperative unit to achieve a group goal. It promotes clear decision-making under pressure, resilience when adversity strikes, and courage under pressure. Honesty, accountability, respect for others, fair play -- all qualities that can be immensely valuable in the classroom and on the playground. These are skills that can last a lifetime.

But consider what we are teaching young people from the following cases involving Pop Warner football, which have arisen lately.

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In Florida nine men were arrested last week on charges of running a gambling ring centering on youth football. The arrests came after an 18-month investigation and the findings were shocking. Authorities learned that South Florida Football League coaches and team affiliates would set bets before the games. The ages of the players range from 5 to 15 in leagues that have 30,000 kids. When the "Super Bowl" for this youth league was played, the pot was more than $100,000. They were betting in the open, exchanging money in the stands, clearly visible by other parents, coaches, the kids, and police officers working the events who did nothing. They bet on individual plays, developing scores, and dozens of other side bets. An ESPN "Outside the Lines" undercover crew caught it all on tape.

How did bettors attempt to influence the outcome? By bribing and paying the young players. Players would paid thousands of dollars after a particularly pleasing game. I saw one young player interviewed who described a gambling coach walking up to him on the sideline before a kickoff return telling him what he could earn for a touchdown return, and then paid him on the sideline when he broke free for 99 yards. The gamblers were often coaches, mentors to the young players, and a number of them had criminal records. And this is how they were teaching the youthful players good values?

The 2011 Tustin Red Cobras, in suburban Orange County, one of America's elite youth football teams put bounties on the heads of opposing players. Four players and one assistant coach told the Orange County Register that they witnessed payments.

They talked of how the head coach, Darren Crawford described the program at a practice and at a film session along with defensive coordinator. Players described receiving money for hard hits. When the Orange Empire Conference, the governing body for the team involved, investigated, it conveniently disregarded the evidence and found no wrongdoing occurred. It is one thing for a rogue group of coaches to run out of control. It is another for the governing body to sweep it under the rug. Who are parents and players to look to for relief? When the National Football League New Orleans Saints coaching staff sanctioned such a bountygate, Commissioner Roger Goodell issued sweeping sanctions against coaches, the organization, and players to send a clear message about how outrageous the behavior was.

The cardinal rule involving youth sports is to make the experience about the kids. Not about frustrated Type A parents or coaches playing out their own frustrations and dreams of faded glory through destroying the youthful experience. Think how young these children were and the corruption of values that bribing entails. Think about the vulnerability of those youthful bodies exposed to targeting. Be careful, and do due diligence before putting your young children's welfare and future in the hands of others.

-- Leigh Steinberg has represented many of the most successful athletes and coaches in football, basketball, baseball, hockey, boxing and golf, including the first overall pick in the NFL draft an unprecedented eight times, among more than 60 first-round selections. His clients have included Hall of Fame quarterbacks Steve Young, Troy Aikman and Warren Moon, and he served as the inspiration for the movie "Jerry Maguire." Follow him on Twitter @SteinbergSports.

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