Tuesday, May 15, 2007

How Upset Should People Be?

I'm convinced that we are going to remember the 2007 Playoffs for one thing: the "Amare Rule."

I can't possibly fathom another situation in another sport with such a bizarre rule, with the possible exception of the "forgot to sign your scorecard" disqualification in golf (but even then, there is no "heat of the moment" excuse). A game predicated on speed and emotion and featuring tons of contact ... yet there are rules in place that take none of that into account. At best, this rule requires every NBA player to be either dispassionate or extremely cerebral. At worst, it turns these guys into robots.

There is nothing on the tape that suggests Amare or Diaw were going to wreck shop on Robert Horry. If they wanted to clock somebody, they could have. Nobody stopped them. Maybe they postured a bit, but what else did they do, exactly? Almost all angles show Amare running out to see if Nash is okay, then performing the exaggerated "hold everyone back" move that is so common on benches during the NCAA Tourney (to keep people from flowing out onto the court during celebrations). Diaw didn't do much of anything. It is hard to see how these guys were such menaces that their behavior warranted suspension. When you factor in the league's leniency regarding Bowen's various ninja moves, Stephen Jackson's meltdowns, Baron's recent incident, and so many other behavior issues, it seems downright crazy.

There is no logical or rational reason that this is happening. And for people who are sticking to the "this is the rule" viewpoint, I would like to turn their attention to something called the United State court of appeals. There are such things as bad laws and bad rules. I suppose it would be better to change a bad rule after the season as opposed to in the middle of it, but the NBA is acting as if these rules were handed down to them on stone tablets and they have no choice but to follow them. That is a cop out. These are the NBA's rules! Of course they can change them, or adjust them. The NFL doesn't have a track record for suspending players for entire seasons, but that didn't stop Roger Goodell from giving Pacman the smack down. For that matter, it didn't stop David Stern from hitting Artest with an unprecedented suspension a few years ago. Nothing exists in a vacuum. There is no such thing is a cut and dried rule. I think the NBA is being extremely cowardly in the way they are dealing with this.

And I still haven't even dealt with the completely perverse incentives that this rule creates. The NBA claims to be worried about various slippery slope and inconsistency issues if they don't enforce the (drum roll, please) "letter of the law." But I would argue that they are creating a far more dangerous situation by opening the door to bush league plays designed to "draw" opponents off the bench. If you are the Warriors tonight, why not wait until Boozer is on the bench, send in Azabuke, and knock Deron Williams into the third row? Chances are, you can pull Boozer from the bench and get him suspended. Genius! I know that there is a long-standing tradition in sports where the "second guy" gets busted, but this situation is absurd. Think about it logically: a player from Team A commits a flagrant foul by slamming a player into the scorer's table, then hits another player in the face with an elbow. Team B has one player mix it up with the aggressor (Bell) and a few more mill around on the court and doing a bit of posturing. Team A has their role player suspended for two games. Team B sees an all-league center and backup forward get suspended for a game each. In other words, Team A instigates the situation, commits all the despicable acts, and shows nearly all of the poor sportsmanship (granted, one guy was doing the work), while Team B does virtually nothing wrong, particularly in light of the fact that their best player and leader had just been crushed. And Team A comes away with a massive advantage - one that may very well give them a title. Maybe it is just me, but that fact pattern is a little disturbing. (And not to draw another comparison to the legal system, but this is why they look at the facts when applying them to the law.)

All of that said, how angry should people be? Obviously, Suns fans are going to be irate. As they should be. But what about basketball fans in general? Many prefer Phoenix to San Antonio due to style and "ready for a fresh face" considerations, but this goes way, way beyond the teams involved. This makes the NBA playoffs - already marred by constant officiating issues, in my opinion - feel closer to WWE wrestling than a real professional sports tournament. And this is a massive problem. I don't know if it requires sending letters to the NBA, but this story won't go away. Not for a long time.

I expected this result, but as a basketball fan, I'm legitimately depressed by it.


Keller said...

How upset? VERY. My favorite team is Sacramento and this situation is more frustrating than any that have involved my beloved Kings. Even the Vlade back tap, the horrible officiating in that series, and the C-Webb knee injury were all easier to take than this disaster. As a fan of the game, I feel sick. You nailed it: this goes beyond the team and undermines the whole game.

Anonymous said...

The point most of you Sun's fans forget is that the rule states, "During an altercation, all players not participating in the game must remain in the immediate vicinity of their bench." The altercation occurred when Bell confronted Horry and got an elbow across the chest. The reason why Horry got a 2 game suspension. The foul was not that bad and Nash flops a little. But all that aside, if Bell goes to help Nash and not confront Horry, Amare and Diaw are playing tomorrow night. I notice that none of the other Spurs got tagged. They know the rule. Wishing for special dispensation for the Sun's players, who also know the rule, is laughable. Stating that it sends the wrong message, because minor role players can create situations where star players will be drawn from the bench and be suspended, is also laughable. Perhaps it is a bad rule, but until it is changed your team should learn how to live with it or pay the consequences.

Keller said...

What Suns fans? The author isn't a Suns fan, as far as I can tell. And I'm a Kings fan. If you can't see that this is ridiculous, I don't know what to tell you. Besides, the "altercation" didn't happen until Stoudemire and Diaw were already "away from the vicinity." This is just stupid. I don't blame Suns fans for feeling robbed, I don't blame intense hoops fans for feeling robbed, and I don't blame casual fans for feeling confused and turned off. The only people who could possibly be happy about this result are Spurs fans and kids who were the class tattletale in grade school.

As for the whole "nobody on the Spurs did it!" that is just stupid. Of course they didn't run out there - it was there prick teammate that issued the cheap shot. Nobody on the Heat rushes out to get Posey's back when he dishes out a cheap shot either. They were probably like, "what the hell, Robert?" The only two guys who ran were the two Suns who had been playing the fourth quarter with Nash, out there sweating and giving everything they had, marveling at their fearless leader pushing them toward a win. OF COURSE they are going to more emotionally charged than a despondant, annoyed Spurs player or a stiff-legged observer like Jalen Rose. How could they not be more invested and more emotional? If they didn't move toward Nash, to worry about him, to protect him - after battling with him - I would question their loyalty and integrity as teammates.

Unless they were told right before this happened "remember, don't leave the bench if one of the Spurs acts like a sore loser and a d***," then there is no way that would be there first thought. They didn't do anything, for crying out loud!

This whole thing is absurd. And the more it gets disected and parsed and tossed around, the more we will lose sight of the big picture. Like when you say the same word over and over too many times and it starts to sound weird. This is really quite simple. Just go back to your thoughts in the moment and recall if you felt any Spurs players (besides maybe Bell for scrapping a bit) should be suspended. If you say yes, you are lying.

Keller said...

Sorry, at the end there it should say "any Suns players."

Michael said...

I left a comment on your foul analysis post but I'll say it again. I didn't want them to be suspended and really, it is a dumb rule, but there is nothing that can be done. The rule does exist and no matter how totally messed up it is, they "should" be suspended.

First of all Amare did not walk towards Nash. I know it can be ARGUED that way, but honestly, the guy was headed towards the altercations going on ON THE COURT. I think it's much more believable on the film to think that Amare was headed towards the fight than to Nash. I think this argument could be used to DEFEND Amare, but let's face it, he was headed to Horry. Given his proven IQ and factor in his aggressive nature with regular, normal human nature, it's hard to say otherwise. But the rule is EXTREMELY STUPID AND NONSENSICAL, and it shouldn't even be there in the first place to where they have to suspend anyone for this. Amare and Diaw should be playing in game 5.

And I think your point about "drawing people off the bench" is a good one. I have...entertained the thought of Horry actually being aware of it, but I really don't think he was doing it for that reason. I actually think he just lost control and snapped.

People should be upset. Really upset. But not for the fact that they got suspended. They should be upset that the NBA has such a retarded rule that was created with such little (or no) foresight and thought.

Anonymous said...

I love how spurs fans bring up the "letter of the law" argument in this case. Well as this blog points out the spurs get away with what amounts to assault in the public arena, and I think there a few nba rules about that. Like no pushing, pulling, hitting while dribbling through the lane or taking a shot. But all I read from Spurs fans in refernce to the rough play the Spurs have dished out is that it what "playoff basketball" is all about.

Michael said...

And about the Elson--Duncan/Bowen incident...

I think it's a bit of a stretch to suspend them. If suspending Amare and Boris was following "the letter of the law," this would be like following "the curve of the letter "c" that starts the law and all subsequent letters afterward."

There was not even a real established altercation or confrontation going on. Yeah I guess, it's somewhat reasonable but I think Kerr brings it up more to gain some impartiality points rather than for the fact that he actually believes what he's typing.

roscofly said...

mThis whole thing is rediculos. Come on, if we wanted to watch basketball the way the NBA wants it to be played throw some robotss on the court and let them go at it. My point is that it is a human game, with human players, officials, coaches, and human people running the leauge front office. Stu Jackson's a moron, there is plenty of proof there from his time in Vancouver. Whether it be drafting Steve Francis or saying that Steve Nash was just a kid with not enough talent to, get this, even play for the lowly Grizzlies (hello 2 time MVP). He killed basketball in Vancouver (Nash is the only reason people still pay any attention up here) and he is slowly killing the NBA in the states. I would not doubt it if he still has a hard-on towards Nash because he couldn't look talent with an exceptional work ethic in the face and recognize it.

Enough about Stu, but the point I make is that sports is driven by the human element. why would you watch if it was otherwise. So trying to put stupid rules in place that are soppose to be cut and dry well then you are taking the sport away from the sport. Could you imagin if every single touch foul was called? "letter of the law right?" Come on! The game would be so boring it would be worse then watching a mid season hockey game. So if the officials on the court can exercise that discresion, why can't the suits, err, Stu and friends exercise the same discresion? Deep down do you think the Spur players think that there should be suspensions? What about coach Pop? I challenge that if they do then they shouldn't be part of the NBA.

The point being that "the letter of the law" aruement falls flat on it's face where the "law" starts to be enforced, the in game officials. They have learnt to use descresion, NBA suits, wake up, it is about time that your guys learnt as well.

jk-1 said...

Pat Burke is going to come off the bench and go IRA on the Spurs -- dropping bombs everywhere! (Shots of some sort or another)

How mad should we be?
What the heck does "immediate vicinity" mean? What does "altercation" mean?

Funny how Stu and Mark say this is "the law" but there's no definition of these terms except their own.

roscofly said...

One more thing to add to my last comment about officials using discresion in game situations.

These suspensions are equivilant to a official calling a touch foul, away from the ball, in the last minute of an close game, on the teams high scorer. And to make it worse the call would be his 6th and disqualifing foul. - Also since it is in the last minute away form the ball the opposing team would get foul shots and the ball.

Here are the similarities: The foul had nothing to do with the play, and had absolutely no impact on the play or outcome of the play. No one was affected by the actions of the foul, even the player that was fouled would just ignor it. And you are giving a huge advantage (Foul shots and the ball) to one team in a close game.

By the suits in NYC failing to use discresion for this situation, they are in essence giving the spurs free throws and the ball, in a tie game with under a minute probably under 30 seconds to go (all for a touch foul barely ever called in the regular flow of the game). Sure the Suns still would have a chance to win the game but they would have to work their tails off and hope that the Spurs falter down the strech on the free throw line.

It just doesn't seem fair spurs fans now does it?

Anonymous said...

Let me first start off by saying again that I think the suspensions suck.

Okay, the point about comparing foul calls and stu jackson's calls is a legitimate comparison that says that discretion should be used in handing out suspensions.

But, I think we have to keep in mind that this incident is not a simple reaching foul or physical play in the post that you can let go. It might've been (and really was) a minor issue back in the day. But post Auburn Palace? No.

That is why the suits are such hard-asses when it comes to altercations or conforntations on the court between players or fans. That one big, huge slip-up in Detroit contributed a lot to it, along with other significant skirmishes of the same kind.

I think it is a top-top-top priority for the league to crack down on anything resembling a brawl.

And as much as it sucks and ruins a great series, horry's punished for his unexplainable stupidity and the same goes for amare and boris. A lot of rules are stupid...you should only break the ones worth breaking.

The league seriously needs to rework this specific rule though. That should be at or near the top their priority list.

Anonymous said...

Palace at Auburn Hills...my bad, brain fart.

I think I got carried away thinking about using either "Malice at the Palace" or just going with the real name.

Anonymous said...

One problem with the rule is that altercation and vicinity aren't defined. I think Stu Jackson pretty much admitted that Duncan/Bowen left the vicinity of the bench, but there was no altercation, so no suspension. If Duncan had walked past the 3-point line and James Jones had then elbowed Elson, Duncan would have to be suspended, even if he had nothing to do with the situation. As a (dirty) coach, I'd be tempted to have a bench player in the game commit a hard foul, see if anybody good from the other team comes off the bench, and then deck the guy he just fouled. Sure, your bench player is suspended, but so is anybody who stood up and took 1-2 steps forward. When you're in the playoffs and one game means so much, it almost seems justifiable in my (addled) mind.

howlingfantods said...

Adam, you're a law student I believe you've mentioned in the past?

We know that there are laws that are open to interpretation and application of the facts, and laws that are pretty much bright-line because of our policy commitments.

For instance, the exclusionary rule requiring suppression of incriminating evidence collected in violation of constitutional rights (4th and 5th amendment) is pretty close to bright-line, regardless of whether the application of the rule to a particular case violated the spirit of the rule. We have a strong commitment against self-incrimination and unreasonable search and seizure, and even if the violation was very reasonable under the circumstances, we want to severely penalize a prosecution for violation of these rights to prevent systematic abuses.

David Stern (very smart lawyer, abhors on-court violence more than anything else) established a very strong bright-line rule that is enforced neutrally and without almost any room for interpretation (the only wriggle room being what constitutes an altercation).

Every NBA player knows about the leaving the bench rule, just as every cop knows about the exclusionary rule. Amare's actions may look reasonable to us civilians, who aren't subject to those rules, just like TV cops who beat on horrible criminal suspects or who cleverly avoid letting them talk to their lawyers might look reasonable to us, but the actions really aren't when you consider that it's one of the main rules that is repeatedly drilled in their heads. He done screwed up bad.

I do wish the Commish had the option of picking penalties though. Maybe a longer suspension during the following regular season that actually hits players' pocketbooks. That would have the benefit of preventing the fact pattern you identified, of opponents baiting players by cheap-shotting their stars in the playoffs. However, weakening that sanction might lead to more players breaking the rule, in the same way that we think simply penalizing the police or prosecutors for violations of the 4th and 5th would lead to more violations.

I'm still pretty bummed about it all though. I hope the Suns come out and play with insane speed, focus, and intensity and run the Spurs off the court in game 5. Blazers fan here, but I like most of the basketball-loving world want to see the Suns coming out of the west.

Anonymous said...

the league ruined their rule to keep down the fighting. okay, amare did leave the bench, so did diaw. that was obviously their first reaction wether it be for nash to check in or to choke out horry. however what was their second reaction..."get back to the bench you dumbass". what is this 'cut and dry' rules ultimate intention? not to have these bench clearing baseball brawls right? ask yourself this,

If the league had NOT handed the spurs the gift of suspension to stoudemire and diaw, would the rule still have been effective in diverting the chance of a full out fight?

the rule worked. it did exactly what it was intended to do. i think someone earlier hit a good point that the people who enforce these rules, also make them. why do they feel they are bound by the law to do so. their is no punishment for being fair. no one governs the workings of the nba office (as far as i know). so why would they want to give this advantage to the spurs is the only thing that needs to be answered. it seems they are generously favorable towards the spurs in most decisions.

jk-1 said...

I listened to Stu Jackson on two local radio shows this morning. He said that the rule is a "bright-line" rule and is one of "strict liability," meaning that if you leave the bench during an altercation, you're suspended.

Well, okay, but let's look at "altercation" and "immediate vicinity" again. When he was asked for a definition of each term, he gave HIS definition. Therefore, by giving HIS definition, players and coaches are left to use their ESP as to what he means by these words. In order to create a "bright-line" or "strict liability" rule, these terms should be clearly defined.

In his defense, he gave a pretty good definition (IMO) of "altercation." Notwithstanding my grievance regarding the inherent vagueness and subjective nature of the use of HIS, unwritten definitions, the defintion did make sense. See, Stu, you can exercise judgment!

I can't remember the specifics of that definition right now, but it sure made a lot of sense. Per this definition, the Duncan-on-the-court incident in the second period would not warrant discipline.

However, let's get picky on defintions, Stu, if it's such an easy rule to read. When asked what "immediate vicinity" meant, he said, "Well, 20 to 25 feet is not the 'immediate vicinity.'" He then went on to say that one foot away from the bench would be the "immediate vicinity." This means that "immediate vicinity" is somewhere between 1 and 25 feet from your seat on the bench. That is anything but a clear rule.

From here on out, an essential part of every team's staff needs to be a Stu Jackson mind-reader so they know how far off the bench the players can be.

Anonymous said...

I completely disagree because what Baron, Jason, Horry and especially Bowen did was in the course of the basketball game. While unnecessary on Baron, Jason and Horrys part they were within the flow of the Game. Jason and Baron were much dirtier than Horrys and they did not get suspended. Bowens was an accident and should have not even been called a foul. Obviously Horrys foul was a flagrant but aren’t all late game fouls flagrant? Stat and Diaw almost turned a bad situation into a horrible one. I would much rather see them play however I do not believe in any situation should they be allowed to leave the bench. How could it be a natural reaction when all the other players on the bench did not move a muscle? Remember it was Bowen who started the altercation. Horry was calm and walked away from Nash when Bell rushed him. While commendable to stick up for his teammates he is ultimately responsible for the loss of his teammates. Nash is rational if Bell had not rushed him no incident would have occurred and we would not be talking about this. Do not blame the NBA; blame the suns for losing their composure. This is their series to win and they need to take the next step mentally to complete that goal.

Anonymous said...

What was once a series of half court verse full court teams. Is now a series of lets reward the dirty team and penalizes the clean team. Every court in the nation must consider mitigating circumstances, not, the NBA. Instead they hand out rulings not unlike one would expect from a court in a totalitarian nation.

What was once a bright and very encouraging NBA playoff season is now tainted by the draconian ruling of the NBA.

Now it is up to the Suns, as a team being purposely short handed by the NBA, to redeem the playoffs by excellent play and good sportsmanship with maybe the Spurs doing the same. The NBA certainly can't.

Anonymous said...

everyone is talking about it like Suns is gonna lose Game 5... what if Suns wins Game 5 but loses Game 6 and 7 hence the series? Do we still come back and blame it on the suspensions?

Adam Hoff said...

Hard to say. Barkley made the point last night that this forces Phoenix to really shorten its bench as a result. Nash won't be able to rest hardly at all, and Thomas and Marion will have play huge minutes. It could leave the Over 30 guys more fatigued for the next games. It is funny that we used to focus on fatigue with Phoenix in all series, but this is the first time it is has come up this year. Starting Jones, bringing Diaw off the bench, boasting Barbosa as 6th Man of the Year, and knowing Kurt Thomas is there has made lengthened the Suns bench. But now they are back to being very thin. We shall see if that is a factor, beyond the obvious loss of Amare.