Has the NBA gotten too soft?
It’s a fair question to ask near the end of a season that has seen Dwight Howard of the Los Angeles Lakers fined $35,000 for this foul on Denver Nuggets’ forward Kenneth Faried. Howard was nearly suspended for the play.
Now compare that foul to this:
That foul by Kevin McHale of the Boston Celtics on Kurt Rambis of the Los Angeles Lakers in the 1984 NBA Finals did not draw a suspension. Heck, McHale wasn’t even fined. No one was disciplined in the aftermath.
I get that the NBA has been hypersensitive about this sort of incident ever since the night of Nov. 19, 2004. With less than a minute remaining in a game between the Indiana Pacers and Detroit Pistons at the Palace of Auburn Hills (Mich.), Ben Wallace of the Detroit Pistons was fouled hard by Ron Artest (now known as Metta World Peace) of the Indiana Pacers. Wallace shoved Artest and this ensued:
Commissioner David Stern was facing a crisis in the aftermath of the incident that would become known as the “Malace at the Palace.” The integrity of the league was in question. Parents complained loudly that they wouldn’t want to take their children to an NBA game for fear of being punched by a player.
Sponsors pulled advertising from the NBA, not wanting to have their products affiliated with a league perceived to be full of “thugs.”
Because, after all, it’s logical to assume that if an incident happens once in the nearly 60 years the league had been in operation, it’s going to become an every-night occurrence, right?
Stern suspended Artest for the rest of the 2004-05 season. Later, a dress code was instituted to address complaints from some fans and (more importantly to Stern) sponsors that the players looked like “street thugs.”
Blatant racism couched in the form of worrying about how players dress when they’re not in uniform; that’s really what all of these recent rule changes and policy shifts in the association have been about.
White America (read: corporate America) grew increasingly less comfortable with the idea of their products and services being associated with a league full of angry, tattoo-laden mostly black men.
Among the rule changes were guidelines for fines and suspensions for rough play and referees were instructed to crack down on physical play.
The aftermath has been devastating to the pace and style of play in the NBA. No major sport can be influenced as much by a referee’s whistle as basketball can. Two quick whistles on a superstar player early in a game can render that player useless for the rest of a half. Imagine if Tom Brady had to go to the sidelines after being called for a delay-of-game penalty or if a baseball team had to lose its pitcher in the second inning because he had thrown too many pitches inside.
It would completely change the product on the field.
Now, multiply that effect by the fact that only five players are on the court for each team in a basketball game and what you have is rule changes that have dramatically altered how the very game of professional basketball is played.
More ticky-tack fouls are called today than at any time in the history of the NBA.
Dwyane Wade was suspended for a game after accidentally kicking Ramon Sessions of the Charlotte Bobcats in December. There is some question about whether it was accidental or intentional, but did this deserve a one-game suspension?
I’m not advocating that the referees swallow their whistles and allow the game to degenerate into a wrestling match.
But at the same time, this is professional basketball—the best players in the world competing on a nightly basis.
Let them play and stop officiating the game like it is a matchup of fourth graders at the local YMCA, for crying out loud. A physical game is not a bad one.