Thursday , Apr , 19 , 2007 C.Y. Ellis

No Tolerance

Joey Crawford got exactly what he deserved.

Joey Crawford has been suspended indefinitely from the NBA and there couldn’t have been a more appropriate punishment, even if I didn’t realize that right away.

No Tolerance

By now the setup to this story is familiar to you, I’m sure. Sunday in a game against the Dallas Mavericks, Spurs forward Tim Duncan, perennial nice guy, was T’ed up twice in the span of a minute by Joey Crawford for three words and some laughing. Duncan was tossed, words ensued, accusations were made, and just like that a controversy was started.

There is no satisfaction in writing this particular piece, even though, oddly, it feels like there should be. I watched in the couple of days after the Crawford meltdown as people in San Antonio and else where called for Crawford’s head on a plate and I couldn’t help but feel like this was a blatant overreaction to a blatant overreaction, like when you slash your neighbor’s car tires because he threw his garbage on your lawn because you made a snide comment about his lawn when you really shouldn’t have. Sure, he was a jerk, he did something entirely uncalled for, but slashing the man’s tires doesn’t really help things. Joey Crawford just got his tires slashed.

I tried, with however much diplomacy as a man needs to play devil’s advocate against his home town team, to take Crawford’s side. I didn’t mean to say, and I don’t mean to say, that anything Crawford did was right. For the record, calling a technical foul on a guy sitting on the bench is acceptable, provided he is so verbally disruptive it becomes a distraction, which didn’t appear to be the case with Duncan on the first tech. But calling a second technical on a guy who is doing nothing more than chucking it up with his teammates on the bench, that’s just plain ass backwards and Joey Crawford knows it, even if he won’t admit it. And yet with the absolute absurdity of the calls made on Duncan in mind, I still couldn’t get into the ‘pitchfork’ mentality – I failed to see the justice or purpose in burning Joey Crawford at the stakes for this one.

Don’t get me wrong, from the second I saw Tim Duncan get tossed in that game, I knew something was wrong. The whole way Crawford did it, his demeanor, and his refusal to admit any wrong doing – I knew he had to be punished and I was in a favor of that. I figured a fine, a private reprimand from Stern or Stu Jackson, and that would be that. Maybe if they’re harsh keep him away from Spurs games in the playoffs. But considering that there are far worse officials calling games in the NBA, I didn’t think firing Crawford would be a beneficial move for anyone in the long run.

Rewind. Start of the season. The NBA has instituted its new ‘no tolerance’ policy for handling players who complain about calls made by the officials. The amount of technical fouls being handed out sky rocket, guys are getting T’ed left and right. That in conjunction with the new rules on defense and physical play have got me and every other person touting a keyboard loading column fodder and firing off at the league for its restrictive approach to handling players.

I didn’t like those changes when they were made, I don’t like them now. In all honesty I’d rather see Rasheed Wallace complain fifteen times a game to an official than see him tossed in the second quarter for throwing a headband. I wasn’t too fond of the dress code either. A more GQ-esque style is fine by me, but when it’s mandated it doesn’t quite have the same effect as when guys want to dress that way.

These are all different arguments however. And yet they pertain to this instance of reprimand against Joey Crawford as much as anything. Players and fans alike haven’t cared for many of the rules and policies put in place by the league in recent years, but yet there they were and they weren’t going anywhere, most of them on a ‘no tolerance’ mentality and an overly harsh punishment for comparatively smaller violations.

Then it hit me. Joey Crawford got exactly what he deserved. I know there shouldn’t be satisfaction, just like you know it shouldn’t feel good to slash your neighbor’s tires but it does. I don’t believe in no tolerance, I think it’s a cheap way to give an appearance of absolute authority. But if something exists on one end, it has to find its way to the opposite end as well. NBA officials are employees and calling games is their job. And like any other person on the planet who has ever had a job of any kind, they have to be held accountable for their mistakes. To what degree? That decision lies with the employer. I don’t agree with how the league deals with players on the court, and I may not even agree with how it deals with its hot headed officials, but like calls made in a game, all we can ask for is consistency.

There’s two fold irony to this situation. The most obvious is the one I just pointed out, that after years of being a hard nosed, overreacting, take no bullshit or prisoners kind of ref, Joey Crawford is taking it in the ass like he’s been dishing it out for so long. I can’t feel sorry for him when I consider this is just the coming around after the going around.

But there’s more to it than that. What you really have to consider is that the league caused this, in some indirect way, as much as Crawford’s own ego. While I can applaud David Stern having the good sense, and the guts, to come down hard on Crawford, I’m not about to stand here and let him sit there and act like Joey Crawford is some rogue agent acting completely against the wishes and policies of the league. I don’t want to hear any of this, ‘we’ve spoken to him on other occasions’ deal because that, in a word, is bullshit. Don’t go touting a policy that asserts an official can T up a player for anything said official interprets as insubordination or disrespect and then say you’ve been telling Joey Crawford not to act too quickly or harshly against players because that’s what some people like to call a contradiction. I’m not saying the league wants Joey Crawford making bad calls, but I assure you Crawford did what he did not out of some personal vendetta against Tim Duncan, but because he felt he was acting in accordance with the strict guidelines of the league, guidelines he practically invented with his style of officiating.

But when those hound dog policies end up smiting one of the most likable and well reputed players in the league, well that’s what they call a back fire and Stern knew it immediately. Stern has been trying like mad to give the league a ‘nice guy’ image, and when one of those ‘nice guys’ gets made out to look like a bad guy on national television in a game between two marquee teams, well that has to be corrected. And furthermore, someone has to take a fall for that. I’m not saying his decision was cut and dry, black and white easy for Stern, but he did what he had to do.

Joey Crawford’s punishment is not only a product of his own arrogance and harsh disposition, but also a product of the league’s terrible policies and needy desire to look good. Again, I’m not saying I’m enjoying this. As a principle, I don’t like these kind of reactions, no matter who they’re directed at. I wish I could say the league wasn’t mired in this ‘no tolerance’ non-sense but it is, and that makes Crawford’s punishment fair, even if it may not be right.

I tried to defend Crawford, tried to give him the benefit of the doubt and weigh his positives favorably against his negatives, but in the end these realizations dawned on me and I’ve come to the conclusion that he is indeed getting what he deserves. He may not admit it, he may not even realize it yet, but it’s the truth.

So to all you who still believe Duncan was in the wrong (all two of you), to all those who think the league’s policies haven’t back fired, to all those who think Crawford’s punishment is too harsh, and finally to Joe Crawford himself, sitting in some recliner stewing away, ever arrogant and unwilling to admit his grievous wrong doing, the next two words are yours: