Heisler: What’s the difference between the NBA and the WWE?

Question: What’s the difference between the NBA and the outfit formerly known as the World Wrestling Federation?
Answer: Beats me.

Actually, there’s a huge difference between a game highlighting athletic grace and hand-to-hand combat between players assuming heroic or villainous personas:

The WWF doesn’t have a ball.

Otherwise, it’s getting too close for comfort for the NBA, even if league officials prefer to pull the strings from New York rather than issuing proclamations in the ring like Vince McMahon.

These playoffs look less like a basketball tournament and more like “CSI NBA” with all the ongoing incidents, reviews and suspensions.

This spring, the NBA has featured:

Elbow-fests (Game 5 of Miami-Indiana where Tyler Hansbrough made a play on the ball and Dwyane Wade’s head, Udonis Haslem targeted Psycho-T’s face and Dexter Pittman threw a wanton elbow at a Pacer–with :19 left and a 35-point lead–then winked at the Miami bench.)

Suspension-fests (Game 6 of Miami-Indiana without Haslem and Pittman, or the all-timer, Game 5 of San Antonio at Phoenix in 2007 with the series 2-2 and Amare Stoudemire and Boris Diaw out for leaving the bench after Robert Horry hip-checked Steve Nash into the scorer’s table.)

Technical-fests (Game 1 of Boston-Miami with the refs, presumably told by New York to crack down, T’ing up Celtics for making faces).

Free throw-fests (Game 2 of San Antonio-Oklahoma City, who combined to shoot 70 free throws after the Thunder started their comeback from 22 points, not by playing basketball but hacking Tiago Splitter.)

Someone is missing something, whether it’s the players (as NBA officials would say it is) or NBA officials (bingo!).

The NBA has yet to figure out there’s a problem if they let teams game the system by fouling intentionally, while drawing the line at flagrant ones.

In practice, it’s all part of the same continuum.

Intentional fouls lead to hard fouls, which lead to harder fouls, which lead to flagrant fouls.

After 20 years of David Stern’s laudable efforts to stamp out all violence, here’s where they stand:

–Actual violence has been all but eliminated.

There are no fights. What we call “incidents,” like Andrew Bynum elbowing J.J. Barea, wouldn’t have drawn a second look in the ‘80s.

Today, if Kevin McHale clotheslined Kurt Rambis as he did in 1984, Stern would suspend him for life.

–A cycle in which the league is ever more involved, with ever more scrutiny on its referees, resulting in headlines blaring the latest incident, punishment, review and upgrade or downgrade, creating the misperception that there’s more violence, not less.

It’s not that players won’t learn, which is what NBA officials think and why they keep dialing up the penalties.

The players are doing what the coaches tell them.

The coaches are telling them what they always have and always will… unless someone changes the basic equation that makes fouling cost-effective.

The day Dr. James Naismith went up that ladder and explained you get two points for throwing a ball through his peach basket but only one for a free throw, everyone in the Springfield, Mass., YMCA gym smart enough to coach knew one thing:

Why let anyone shoot a layup if you lay him and let him get up and try to make two 15-footers?

One thing and one thing only will make coaches stop ordering players to take hard fouls:

Change the math that makes fouling at mid-court on a turnover, or under the basket, or hacking a bad free throw shooter a smart, cost-effective play.


All intentional fouls—anything that’s not clearly a play on the ball—result in two free throws and possession.

If that won’t cut them out, it will cut them down with the standard raised to getting a hand on the ball, rather than trying to catch your opponent after low-bridging him so he doesn’t wipe out too badly.

This will also get rid of the abomination of abominations, turning games into foul shooting contests.

Ironically, it was Okahoma City’s Scott Brooks who just broke out Hack-a-Tiago, not San Antonio’s Gregg Popovich, a new proponent who was once above such things but reconsidered when his team got old and still does it while maintaining he hates it.


I hope he does it in the Finals, in the fourth quarter of Game 7.

We need some changes, before Pittman checks Tony Parker into the scorer’s table and Tim Duncan and Man Ginobili miss Game 7 for leaving the bench.

Mark Heisler is a regular contributor to SheridanHoops, LakersNation and the Old Gray Lady. His power rankings appear every Wednesday during the regular season, and his columns appear Wednesdays or Thursdays. Follow him on Twitter.



  1. Kevin Matthews says

    It seems more then a little disingenuous to say “This spring, the NBA has featured:” and then use an example from the Spurs vs. Suns series FIVE YEARS AGO. Perhaps your argument isn’t as strong as you think it is if you have to dig that far in the past in a vain attempt to bolster your point.

  2. says

    WWF no longer exists as a pro wrestling organization. It’s been called WWE for some time. If it’s name recognition you’re going for, just bust out “Pro Wrestling.”

    • Jimbo says

      Yeah, I hate how people STILL get this wrong. Didn’t it change like 15 years ago? If you’re gonna compare stuff to professional wrestling, at least get it right.
      Anyway, I really don’t think there’s any major need for fouling changes. If you don’t like free throw contests, blame all the atrocious free throw shooters, because hacking wouldn’t be worthwhile if PROFESSIONAL ATHLETES (notice I emphasized something there) could make simple free throws. Go sit in the gym for hours on end practicing with a professional trainer or something, it’s your damn job. All the other stuff can be handled by better officiating. Players fouling too hard? Fine, penalize them for it like you’re supposed to, instead of ignoring the deliberate and hard fouls made by a superstar (Dwyane Wade can slam into Darren Collison and get no major penalty, but an average player gets a 2 game suspension for the same foul). And stop with all the B.S. techs like in Game 1 of Boston/Miami, where the slightest thing resulted in a T.


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