For the Jan. 7 Los Angeles Clippers-Portland Trail Blazers game, C.J. McCollum, Portland shooting guard and point guard, sat out due to a “clerical error,” according to ESPN. The Trail Blazers reportedly submitted a roster with McCollum listed as “inactive” in place of teammate Luis Montero, a rookie shooting guard who’s been mostly inactive since signing with Portland in July 2015. McCollum’s inactive status prevented him from participating in the game.
McCollum is Portland’s second-leading scorer, behind Damian Lilliard, point guard, according to stats listed on ESPN’s website. Portland fell 109-98 without McCollum, not only because of human error, but also because of poor judgment and poor sportsmanship.
Although Trail Blazers coach Terry Stotts said he signed the paperwork “without really noticing it” and thought that the team had caught the error in time, the “inactive” ruling stood, according to ESPN; however, the Trail Blazers contested the ruling, and the NBA gave Clippers coach Doc Rivers the option to allow McCollum to play, according to an unspecified league source.
But Rivers did not agree to allow McCollum to appear on the court in a shoddy show of sportsmanship. His decision to essentially keep McCollum, one of Portland’s best players, on the sidelines was a cheap and dirty trick that undercuts the meaning of true competition.
One doesn’t have to be a Portland Trail Blazers fan to notice that both the “clerical error” and Rivers’ refusal to allow fair play hurt the integrity of the game. A team’s honor rests on their ability to bring everything they have ― whether it’s skilled players and a brilliant game plan ― to the court and face the opposing team at their strongest. Rivers’ decision was, in essence, an attempt to give his team the upper hand, and it shows in the final score.
According to ESPN, Rivers said that his team has made the same error twice with its players, who had to sit out, and he also said that he’s been “fighting” the active list for years. So maybe he wasn’t trying to gain an advantage over Portland and rather wanted to level the playing field, in a way. Regardless, he had the power to override the rule and chose not to.
Human error is one thing ― it happens randomly and arbitrarily, and sometimes, you can’t fix these mistakes. But when someone purposefully makes a decision that will alter how events play out, as Rivers did, that’s inexcusable. It’s not fair to McCollum, it’s not fair to the rest of the Trail Blazers, and it’s not fair to the spectators.
When fans purchase tickets to go to a game, they do it to get a chance to see the NBA’s best in real-time, up-close action. Imagine if this happened to someone like Dwayne Wade or LeBron James, and the opposing team’s coach decided to have Wade or James sit out. That’s just blasphemous.
Perhaps the issue really isn’t with human error or a coach’s poor judgment but with NBA policy and procedure. Maybe more coaches need to fight having to submit an active list to prevent these types of problems in the future. But for the time being, let the players play.