May 17, 2007
So here's my defense on the NBA's behalf ...
You can't blame them for the Stoudemire-Diaw suspensions because they correctly interpreted a stupid, idiotic, foolish, moronic, brainless, unintelligent, foolhardy, imprudent, thoughtless, obtuse and thickheaded rule. Can you blame them for having that rule in the first place? Yes. But you can't blame them for the actual interpretation -- after all, Stoudemire and Diaw did leave their bench during an altercation, just like Tom Brady's right arm was still coming down as Charles Woodson popped him in the Tuck Rule Game. Everyone knows about the leaving-the-bench rule. It's been around for more than a decade. It's the reason assistant coaches spin around during potential fights and hold their arms out like bouncers at a nightclub. It's the reason a really good Knicks team got bounced from the '97 playoffs (robbing everyone of a much-anticipated Bulls-Knicks Eastern Conference finals). It's also the reason why we haven't had a bench-clearing brawl since the rule was invented.
Here's the problem with that stupid, idiotic, foolish, moronic, brainless, unintelligent, foolhardy, imprudent, thoughtless, obtuse and thickheaded rule: It's currently designed as a black-or-white law that leaves no room for interpretation. As Barkley pointed out on TNT, Stoudemire and Diaw stopped after a few steps and never escalated the situation. In a way, it played out as poorly as the tuck rule did. In that playoff game against the Raiders, Brady pumped the football, brought it back down, got popped by Woodson and coughed up the ball. It should have been a fumble, but because of the stupid, idiotic, foolish, moronic, brainless, unwise unintelligent, foolhardy, imprudent, thoughtless, obtuse and thickheaded way that the tuck rule was designed, the play was interpreted correctly, the Patriots kept the ball and ended up winning in overtime.
Three incidents/story lines from this year's playoffs inadvertently illustrated the deeper dilemma here:
1. Let's say you're one of the best seven players on the Phoenix Suns. You love Nash -- he's your emotional leader, your meal ticket to the Finals, the ideal teammate and someone who makes you happy to play basketball every day for a living. He's killing himself to win a championship. His nose was split open in Game 1. His back bothers him to the point that he has to lie down on the sidelines during breaks. He's battling a real cheap-shot artist (Bruce Bowen) who's trying to shove and trip him on every play. But he keeps coming and coming, and eventually everyone follows suit. Just as things were falling apart in Game 4 and you were staring at the end of your season, he willed you back into the game and saved the day.
Suddenly, he gets body-checked into a press table for no real reason on an especially cheap play. You're standing 20 feet away. Instinctively, you run a few steps toward the guy who did it -- after all, your meal ticket is lying on the court in a crumpled heap -- before remembering that you can't leave your bench. So you go back and watch everything else unfold from there. Twenty-four hours later, you get suspended for Game 5 because your instincts as a teammate kicked in for 1.7 seconds.
Think about how dumb this is. What kind of league penalizes someone for reacting like a good teammate after his franchise player just got decked? Imagine you're playing pickup at a park, you're leading a game 10-3, your buddy is driving for the winning layup, and some stranger clotheslines your buddy from behind and knocks him into the metal pole. Do you react? Do you take a couple of steps toward him? I bet you do. For the NBA to pretend it can create a fairy-tale league in which these reactions can be removed from somebody's DNA -- almost like a chemical castration -- I mean, how stupid is that?
2. One of the running debates of these playoffs: Is Bruce Bowen a cheap player? I love the fact that anyone's actually debating this -- if your answer is "no" or your answer is "I'm not sure," then you've obviously never played basketball in your life. Bruce Bowen is a cheap player. There's no debate.
Now here's where the NBA failed: For a league that professes to be concerned about dirty play and any situation that could lead to a brawl, the league has curiously looked the other way with the single dirtiest player in the league. If he pulled this crap on a pickup court, or even in college intramurals, somebody would have punched Bowen in the face and broken his jaw. In the NBA? He gets to keep doing his thing and putting other players in danger. In the Phoenix series alone, he tripped Stoudemire from behind on a dunk in Game 2, kneed Nash in the groin in Game 3 and tried to knock Nash off balance in Game 4 as they were running back upcourt (causing a frustrated Nash to elbow him in the chops). The league penalizes two Phoenix stars for instinctively running toward an injured teammate, but they don't penalize a perpetually dirty player who's eventually going to trigger an ugly brawl before the end of his career?
How the hell does that make sense?
So don't blame the NBA higher-ups for the way they interpreted that stupid, idiotic, foolish, moronic, brainless, unintelligent, foolhardy, imprudent, thoughtless, obtuse and thickheaded rule. Blame them for having the rule itself. Blame them for allowing the league to morph into something that doesn't quite resemble basketball anymore. Blame them for a league in which basketball players aren't totally allowed to think and act like basketball players and teammates aren't totally allowed to think and act like teammates. Blame them for an ongoing double standard in which the Bruce Bowens of the league can willfully endanger other players, but a roundhouse swipe on an attempted block can get someone ejected if they miss by a scant 10 inches while moving at full speed. Blame them for dubious officiating that's compromised the playoffs to the degree that an increasing number of fans are wondering where the WWE ends and the NBA begins.
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