Wednesday , May , 16 , 2007 C.Y. Ellis

Suns/Spurs Suspensions: The Problem

Robert Horry should not be suspended.

Amare Stoudemire should not be suspended.

Boris Diaw should not be suspended.

And Stu Jackson should be fired.


Suns/Spurs Suspensions: The Problem

With under a minute remaining in game four of the western conference semi-finals Spurs’ forward Robert Horry body checked Suns point guard Steve Nash into the scorers table and subsequently, on to the floor. Raja Bell immediately escalated the situation by confronting Horry verbally and physically. Players from both teams became involved in the altercation, and we know for a fact that Amare Stoudemire and Boris Diaw left the Phoenix bench.

That’s the news. ‘The Problem’, as I like to put it, is what followed. Within a day of this incident a flurry of anticipation and speculation began to fly around the basketball world, wondering what, if any, disciplinary action would be taken by the league office. Somewhere around 5:15 PM central time, I see the shit hit the wire for the first time. HORRY suspended two games. STOUDEMIRE and DIAW both suspended one game.

Shit.

I don’t say that as a way of expressing displeasure, well, yes I do, but more so than that I’m labeling the league’s reaction to this incident what it is – shit.

There is a problem in the NBA. In fact, I would go so far as to say it is the single biggest problem with the league today. If I had to put a name on that problem it would be Stu Jackson, but honestly it goes deeper than that, to a man they call Stern, but farther still. This problem is rooted in the policies, the very mentality of the league itself. The league has chosen to run itself, govern itself, in a way that does not merely allow, but encourages overreaction, overly harsh punishments, and coddling overprotective rules. And that, is the problem.

Back in October, I wrote an article that talked about the changes in the league, the gentler, softer league is what I called it. And even then, I knew this would happen. I knew eventually the boneheaded stance of the NBA would be back to bite somebody hard when it matters most. The league has been turned from a legitimately physical sport to an activity where any contact is a foul, any hard foul is flagrant, any word (or laugh) is a technical foul, and any protest after that is an ejection. This has become a league where if you step on a guy’s shoelaces and he falls down too hard you get suspended.

Maybe I’m just stuck in the old school physical mentality of the sport. Perhaps I’m just barbaric. But I’m sick of seeing giant, well conditioned athletes, being penalized this severally for actions amongst themselves that are literally no worse than rough play between kids. Somebody fell down. Whoop-dee-fucking-doo. Nash wasn’t injured. He could have been injured, sure. But he could have been injured a second before Horry touched him if he stepped the wrong way and rolled his ankle. What would you propose then? That the league suspend the hardwood floor?

I’m tired of the league having to review tapes of a guy’s foot grazing the back of a another guy’s leg. I’m tired of having a guy get a flagrant foul for doing no more than pivoting and making incidental contact with another player. I’m tired of guys getting suspended for essentially bumping into another player. I’m tired of players getting suspended for taking a few steps off the bench. As someone who has played and observed the sport my entire life it just doesn’t make sense to me. And if you pulled yourself away from the league propelled propaganda and feigned outrage, you would agree with me. This incident is being treated like a felony and travesty because ESPN and the NBA are making it such. A guy fell down. Yes he hit the score table hard, yes he hit the ground hard, but he was injured only so severely that he was able to leap to his feet in a matter of seconds and charge forward for retaliation. Some guys left the bench. So what? They did nothing to worsen the situation. In fact, they didn’t really do anything. You can feed yourself all the psuedo-concerned citizen bullshit you want, and tell yourself the league isn’t supposed to be physical anymore, and tell yourself the league is supposed to be different now, that we have to follow all the rules to the letter, but you deep down you know what happened – a guy fell down, some guys left the bench. That’s it. That is not a big deal.

I understand the precedents have been set for these kind of issues. I understand the league is following the established rules and dealing out the predetermined punishments. But that doesn’t make it right. And I will not support foolishness on the grounds of consistency. What I’m saying is not just that the league acted wrongly in this incident, but that their stance and philosophy is all wrong. The way they deal with fouls, flagrant fouls, technicals, ejections, and suspensions is all wrong. Even just five seasons ago nothing like this would have resulted. And so you tell me, is the league better for the way it has chosen to deal with these incidents?

Phoenix may end up losing game five, losing this series, and losing their season because a stupid foul by Horry and ridiculous policies by the league that some how find a way to punish them for that stupid foul. You can cite the rules all you want, you and I and everybody with functioning brain cells knows neither Amare Stoudemire nor Boris Diaw deserve to be suspended. They did nothing, they caused nothing, and they escalated nothing. Their suspension is the result of an idiotic rule and the stubborn refusal to change it. How is that better?

You can be on any side of this you want to. Whether you agree with me or not, this much cannot be debated: the series that will, in the minds of many, decide the NBA champion has been tainted and skewed. No matter who wins this series, excuses will be made and unlike so many other times, this time they will be valid. No matter who wins, who loses, somebody will have gotten robbed.