Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Stern's Paradox

Huh…can’t wait to see how all this turns out. NBA commissioner David Stern might have to look up the definition of “paradox”, if he hasn’t already.

For all the non-basketball fans out there, the last week of the NBA playoffs has seen a whole string of blatant cheap shots, and to date, no one has drawn a suspension, despite the fact that each one would likely get an automatic suspension if the foul had taken place during the regular season.

Here’s a quick rundown…

*In Game 2 of the Suns/Spurs matchup, San Antonio forward Bruce Bowen kicks at Sun Amare Stoudamire’s legs as he’s coming down from a dunk. No suspension.

*In Game 3 of the same series, Bowen knees two-time MVP Steve Nash in the groin while Nash is playing tight defense. Nash goes down hard. Again, no suspension for Bowen.

*In Game 4 of the Utah/Golden State series, Utah center Mehmet Okur goes for a late game drive and gets clotheslined by Jason Richardson. Okur lands on his back, and Richardson gets a Flagrant 2 foul and an ejection, but no suspension for Game 5.

*Earlier in that same game, Derek Fisher turns to go upcourt after defending a Baron Davis miss, when Davis suddenly stops and throws an elbow to Fisher’s temple, knocking him to the floor and drawing a 20-second timeout. No foul is called, but the NBA charges Davis retroactively with a Flagrant 2, which has no bearing whatsoever on a game that’s already over.

*In Game 4 of the Suns/Spurs series, Robert Horry takes over for Bruce Bowen and levels Steve Nash with a forearm shiver that sends Nash headfirst into the scorers table. No news on Horry’s fate yet, but ironically all the attention is going to Stoudamire and Boris Diaw, who left the bench to rush to Nash’s aid, and thus technically made themselves eligible for one-game suspensions themselves.

So far, every one of these fouls has been attributed to the rough play expected in the NBA playoffs. I guess that’s why the offender in each case opted to walk away from his victim as if nothing had happened. To their credit, no victim aside from Stoudamire has gone out of their way to lay blame, though Nash had to sheepishly admit during post-game interviews that, “well, it was a body check”.

We know, Steve. You shouldn’t be embarrassed to admit it.

Richardson and the rest of the Warriors chalk up his takedown of Okur to the fact that he shouldn’t have driven the lane late in a game that was already over. I’m sure they would have justified Andrei Kirilenko if he had thrown Baron Davis to the ground when he went up for his highlight-reel dunk at the end of Golden State’s 20-point Game 3 victory.

Or maybe not.

Like I said, the players involved—at least the ones that have been on the receiving end of these fouls—have adamantly declared that they don’t want to see their opponents suspended, that they’d rather win the series against a full opposing roster. I’m glad they feel that way. If I was in their shoes, I’d feel the same way.

What bugs me is not that Robert Horry doesn’t help Steve Nash up when he takes him out, or that Baron Davis just chucked all the goodwill he’d built up in the last month by taking down a guy who’s daughter is recovering from cancer surgery. What bugs me is that the league is only concerned about their bottom line. And it’s going to catch up with them.

That’s why they won’t suspend Davis. The league doesn’t want to lose revenue by suspending high-profile players during the playoffs. It’s the same reason the referee’s give superstars the benefit of the doubt on foul calls, while hard-working rookies like Paul Milsap get nailed for breathing too close: the league wants its superstars on the court, even though logically speaking, the superstars are the ones that are least in need of favorable officiating.

But here’s my point: you can bend over backwards to keep the big names on the court, and chalk up every cheap shot to hard playoff basketball, but what happens if Nash gets knocked unconscious on that hit from Horry? Will David Stern be OK with losing the league MVP to “tough playoff basketball”? Will the league be so lenient if Andrei Kirilenko hip checks Davis into the third row tonight?

I seriously doubt it.

Bad calls go both ways, often in the same games. No doubt about it. But as long as the league keeps pretending that it’s OK to maintain their double-standards, the clock will continue to tick. And I feel for the poor shmoe that’s in the crosshairs when the bomb goes off.

Of course, maybe we’ll get through the rest of the playoffs without any serious incidents, and I’m sure the apologists will give us a chorus of “I told you so’s”. But my point has already been made. The league already has its image problem. I’m just one of the few that’s stayed loyal in spite of it.

But my clock is ticking, too.