KRAVITZ: Poor, tired, weary, overworked Lebron: James sits for Cavs as the Pacers roll

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Bob Kravitz

The wussification of America is complete now. It was bad enough during the baseball postseason when managers started yanking productive starting pitchers after five innings, or when relievers hit the 30-pitch mark and broadcasters breathlessly wondered how – oh, HOW! – that reliever might come back the next evening and, you know, do the job he's paid millions to do.

Now, though, we have LeBron James sitting out the 11th game of the regular season. The 11th. Not the 56th. Not the 71st. The 11th.

"He needs rest. So we're going to rest him," Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue said before Wednesday night's 103-93 Pacers victory over the LeBron-less (and J.R. Smith-less) Cavs.

Remember the old days when Larry Bird and Magic Johnson routinely took the night off three weeks into the season so they could properly maintain their bodies and get the proper amount of beauty sleep?

No, me neither.

Somewhere, Cal Ripken, Jr. is smirking.

Yes, it's true, you buy your ticket and you take your chances. Sometimes you go to a Broadway play and get a night with the less-talented understudy. This isn't like attending a movie where you're guaranteed that you'll see all your celluloid heroes. I get that. Really, I do.

But the 11th game?

How soft have we become?

(Now, before my old city of Cleveland crushes me and suggests I'm calling James soft, understand, I am not. Repeat: I. Am. Not. The guy is the ultimate basketball warrior, as tough-minded and emotionally invested in winning as Michael or Kobe or any of the other all-timers. I'm just saying, these guys are now surrounded by so many specialists, so many sports scientists and sleep doctors and nutritionists and folks who monitor their every bodily function, even the gross ones, they end up being pampered and babied and convinced they need a night off in just the 11th game of the season.)

Last week, Philadelphia's talented young player Joel Embiid sat out the Sixers' game here in Indianapolis because of something called "load management." At the risk of sounding like some aging curmudgeon who wants the kids to get off his lawn, what in the heck is "load management," and which schools are teaching these courses now?

After the game, I asked Nate McMillan, a player of some reknown back in the day, how many healthy rest days he took in his career.

"I'll tell you, we didn't have that," he said, smiling. "This is something that started the last 10 years where players and teams are talking about resting players. When I played, training camp was the full month of October, and we could do two-a-days the whole month of October. A lot of things have changed in the NBA but we never talked about rest days or taking days off. Really, the only time you heard that conversation was late in the season when you had a playoff spot wrapped up, you might rest some guys, but not this early in the season."

I wondered if he could feel what young kids were feeling, how their parents felt after shelling out big bucks to take their sons and daughters to see the game's biggest star – only to have him, um, rest.

"Yeah, of course," he said. "But I think teams do what they think is best for them…One thing we talk about a lot is recovery with players, how you train and condition them, time in practice, amount of time to recover. We didn't have sleep doctors when I played. We flew commercial. It's a whole different game now."

In a more perfect union, fans would come to Bankers Life to watch the Pacers team against the Cavs team. But the NBA doesn't market teams, even ones as awe-inspiring as the Golden State Warriors. No, the NBA markets individual superstars, does it far more than any other American professional sport. So when people arrive at the fieldhouse and learn that James isn't playing because he needs – cough – rest after playing heavy minutes the night before against Toronto, it makes sense that they're going to be crestfallen, or even angry. These tickets aren't cheap, folks.

"Are you here to write about LeBron?" a father asked me as I rode down the parking-garage elevator with him and his two young boys.

"I was, but I don't know if you know this yet, he's not playing tonight," I said.

"Well," he said, drawing a deep breath of resignation, "we know now."

I stole a glance at the two young boys and wished I'd kept my mouth shut. It was as if I'd told them there was no Santa Claus.

I believe it would be fair to blame Gregg Popovich for all this. It was Pop who began closely monitoring the minutes of his stars, notably Tim Duncan, roughly five, six years ago. Pop even held out his big-name guys in a nationally televised game, drawing the ire of then-commissioner David Stern.

Mind you, Popovich, Lue, any and all of these guys have every right and even an obligation to do what's best for their team in the long term. This isn't about winning in mid-November; it's about being fresh and ready to do what the Cavs did last summer, fighting back from a three games to one deficit and beating the Warriors in seven games.

So if they rest a guy in the middle of the dog days, if they tell a guy to take the night off in March or early April when the playoff spot is secured, that's fine. But the 11th? Really.

This is why there's such a disconnect between pro athletes and ordinary working people, and why that chasm is getting greater. So many millions of people in this country work a 40-hour work week, or work two jobs, or even three, and struggle to feed their families and stay financially afloat while working themselves half to death. So you'll pardon them if they see a multi-zillionaire taking the night off to get proper rest and react by going slightly ballistic.

Shoot, I almost felt sorry for the poor ticket scalper – sorry, ticket reseller – I spoke to on Delaware Street across the way from the fieldhouse.

"How are things going now that LeBron isn't playing?" I wondered.

"It (stinks)," he said brusquely.

And why is it always Indianapolis? Is it because we're a red state and James vigorously campaigned for Hillary Clinton? (Just kidding. Really. Kidding). That's three straight times the Cavaliers have come to Indianapolis, and three straight times James has been a healthy – but weary, oh-so-weary – scratch. Maybe that says something about the general perception of the Pacers, who are now a so-so .500 team, and the idea that the Cavs thought they could come to Bankers Life and beat the Pacers without the best player in the universe. Did LeBron ever take a powder when the Heat used to come in here for huge games against the rival Pacers? I think not.

The good news is, it wasn't a total loss.

For one thing, the Pacers played exceedingly well, winning their second straight game for the first time all season. Their defense no longer looks like the Mannequin Challenge, having held Orlando to 69 points and the Cavs to their season-low of 93 points. "We trust each other now," Paul George said.

Second, everybody got a Hardee's breakfast biscuit.

As Kevin Love went to the free-throw line late in the game, the crowd knew the Cavs had missed four previous free throws, and a fifth miss would mean free breakfast biscuits for the house. So they chanted, "We want a biscuit! We want a biscuit!"

Love missed.

Look at the biscuits as a consolation prize for not seeing LeBron.

At this point, it must be noted that I've written 1,365 words in this column (headline not included), and this is my third column in three days. So I'm going to go home, drink a recovery drink (beer) and lay down for a while.

The King needs his rest, and I do, too.

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