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.