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NBA vs Players: Who you got?

Posted By Michael Johnson On Oct 16 2010 @ 4:26 pm In Boston Celtics | No Comments

In case you haven’t heard, the NBA has developed new guidelines to restrict its often morose players. The new rulings, widening the cases for which a referee can call a technical foul, were to be effective immediately. Despite the changes, however, many close to the game weren’t under the impression that these rules would be strictly enforced, if enforced at all. Over time the players of the NBA have cemented their indifferences to the ways games are called. It is a frequent occurrence to see a disgusted player make a face, throw his hands in the air, or storm to the other end of the court in a scathing manner. Up until recently, I didn’t even think much of it. I just assumed that’s the way the game was. But now David Stern and his front office cronies have made what they consider a valiant attempt to ratchet  down on such behavior. The new rulings have made their presence felt early on. Kevin Garnett was issued a double technical foul vs the Knicks this past week, and thus immediately ejected from the game. Garnett was given the boot for making what appeared to be an exaggerated disagreement with the refs call on a lose ball foul. What made the situation even more entertaining was that the call wasn’t even against Garnett, but rather his teammate Jermaine O’Neal. O’Neal was issued a technical himself, just seconds before Garnett’s ejection.

For a rule that is trying to establish itself with authority, there is no better team to start with than the Celtics. The Celtics led the league last season with 54 team technical fouls.  Four of their players landed in the top 45 for most technical fouls, with both of the O’Neal’s also falling into that distinguished leaders list as well. They are the bad boys of the NBA, as it were. Concerning the situation, Coach Doc Rivers wisely deflected any possible controversy by remarking, “It is what it is. We’ve got to live with it.”

A blunt Rivers stated what he needed to from a PR standpoint, but still left plenty of room for interpretation. Rivers, not usually known for his cryptic comments, is probably best suited to not take an official standpoint on the matter. For starters, he is saddled with the most poorly behaved team by the NBA’s on-court standards. In the past Rivers has not displayed any initiation to stop such behavior. Whether this is because he prefers the emotion his team displays, or simply because he has no control over it, is unclear. What is clear, however, is that the new rules will have a massive impact on his team from this point forward.

With all of the controversy surrounding this newly established stringent approach to behavior, the players seem poised to provide one last ostentatious battle. The NBPA (National Basketball Players Association), headed by its director, Billy Hunter, has threatened to file suit against the leagues officials.  ”The new unilateral rule changes are an unnecessary and unwarranted overreaction on the league’s behalf,” Hunter declared in a statement.

Which way the scale will tip is unclear at the moment. This latest attempt to reform the game comes as no surprise, as player dissent has continued to proliferate in the recent past.  The latest string of colorful disagreements by the NBA’s most popular names- including Garnett, James, Howard, and Bryant (among many others)- has drawn an unusual amount of attention over the past couple of seasons. From commentators, to columnists, to analysts, as well as the many variations of league officials– all have all seen the emotional behavior of the players as negative publicity for the leagues image. The players contend that this raw emotion is simply part of the game and that by eliminating it play would suffer.  I think it is hard to argue that with the absence of it’s premiere players at times, the NBA would clearly be putting an inferior product on display.

What really hurts me amidst this new cloud of controversy is how far the game has seemed to have gotten away from itself. The NBA– and NFL included– seem to be more bureaucratic than ever.  While each league only used to intervene when absolutely necessary– taking a much more laissez-faire approach to the game– now it seems like any action the league deems as ill conceived will face the most complete scrutiny possible under “league law.” You do still understand these are still sports we are dealing with right David? Right Roger? These men have become so obsessed with the image and branding purposes of their individual leagues, that it is almost as if they have lost sight of why we tune in– for the entertainment value. What if Almighty Roger had decided Michael Vick’s actions OUTSIDE OF THE LEAGUE had been too severe for him to reenter professional sports forever? He would have effectively dismissed arguably the most entertaining athlete in all of sports. All in the name of not tarnishing the league’s delicate image. I understand that this latest quantum shift in the way sports’ operate is partly because the same shift in “political correctness” is happening all throughout America. Everything is now scrutinized. While jabber jawing and physical altercations used to be a source of pride, it is no longer tolerated in any way, shape or form. In fact Jordan and Bird based their entire source of motivation off of trash talking and on-the-court attitude. While that didn’t necessarily mean it extended to the referees, there is still no question that sports have come a long way in terms of governance and disciplinary action against its athletes.

As a young Cowboys fan, one of my favorite early memories is when George Teague laid out Terrell Owens in the star at midfield. Nothing of the sort would fly in the NFL of 2010. On either side for that matter. But at the time it represented ferocity, pride, and loyalty on the behalf of Teague, who only played for the Cowboys for 5 seasons (fragmented seasons at that).  That raw emotion is what makes the game so special. Though I’ve lived though countless moments with the Cowboys (most of the negative variety), that is one of the moments I will remember most, because I was proud to be a fan at that moment. The players of the NBA counter this rule with that precise argument. By making strides to limit the emotion of the game, it seems as if Stern rather supplant the players with robotic caricatures that simply provide the athletic prowess. The raw emotion and electricity that comes with his players is a pitfall in the overall scheme. I long for the days where McHale clotheslined Rambis and it was simply seen as a catalyst for the series, rather than grounds for the suspension of 10 individuals. Our good friend Tommy Heinsohn has overseen this entire transformation. And I’m not so sure I could put it any better than he did this past Wednesday.

“This is absolutely NBA…It’s STUPID!”

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