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Am I being dramatic? I think Mike Shanahan should be fired for running a one-legged Robert Griffin III back out onto the football field during their playoff loss to the Seattle Seahawks. Shanahan's reasoning for keeping Griffin on the field was old-school cliched BS. "Robert said to me, 'Coach, there's a difference between injured and being hurt. I can guarantee I'm hurting right now, give me a chance to win this football game because I guarantee I'm not injured.' That was enough for me." You know, because hyper-competitve professional athletes are never going to play down the extent of their injury. And I know RG3 is uncommonly bright, but I don't think his medical training is all that extensive. He is certainly not as knowledgeable as Dr. James Andrews, who...well, let's just leave this story right here.
I bring this story up here because there is a Spurs connection. Ever since we hit Draft Lottery gold for a second time, we have had so very little go wrong in Spursville. But one of those few downturns in fortune came on April 11th, 2000. That was Tim Duncan's final game of the 1999-00 season, thanks to a poorly-timed knee injury. (To be fair, there aren't too many well-timed knee injuries, even if you plan them in advance) The Spurs finished the regular season by winning three of their last four, but lost three of four without Timmy in round one against the Phoenix Suns.
Star player lost to injury, team loses in playoffs, dog bites man, right? Well, Gregg Popovich and the Spurs' way of dealing with the injury stood in stark relief with the way Mike Shanahan and the Redskins dealt with their injured superstar. Popovich decided to put his franchise player on the shelf with an eye on the future, and the Spurs made their rationale public. I can still remember talk radio host Jim Rome questioning the Spurs' statement (12.5-year old radio rants aren't linkable, sorry - I have to paraphrase) by asking, "Why are the Spurs so insistent in pointing out that Duncan's injury is one that many players are playing with?" (Hey Jim, maybe the Spurs were just trying to make clear that they were being prudent with their top asset? I'm out, RACK ME!) In what may be a related story, Tim Duncan stayed in San Antonio when his free agency came around, he won two season MVPs, two Finals MVPs, and three championships after the knee injury of 2000. I don't know, maybe I'm crazy - but it might just be a good idea to take care of the players you expect to lead your franchise to championships.
There's another Spurs connection to this story, as it happens. In the 2003 Western Conference Finals, Manu Ginobili inadvertently fell into Dirk Nowitzki in game three of that series, causing the Mavericks' franchise player to miss the remainder of the WCF with a knee sprain. Mavericks owner Mark Cuban began to sour on his head coach Don Nelson following this incident, as Cuban thought Nelson was being overly cautious with Nowitzki. (Details here) Similar to the Duncan situation, Nowitzki would go on to win a season MVP, a Finals MVP, and lead the Mavericks to two Finals appearances, the latter of which resulted in the team's first NBA title.
With Robert Griffin III on board, the Washington Redskins have an opportunity to leave the mediocrity treadmill they've been stuck on for the better part of two decades. But if they continue to treat their elite talent like cannon fodder, their foreseeable future will look very much like their recent past. Gregg Popovich took the long view. Don Nelson took the long view. Mike Shanahan did not, and for that he should pay with his job.