By Michael L Rautins
Under Rule Number 12 — Fouls and Penalties, the National Basketball Association clearly states, “During an altercation, all players not participating in the game must remain in the immediate vicinity of their bench. Violators will be suspended, without pay, for a minimum of one game and fined up to $35,000.” Whether perceived fair or not, rules are rules. Thus, Amaré Stoudemire and Boris Diaw of the Phoenix Suns will not be playing tonight in Phoenix. This comes as a result of their reaction to Robert Horry’s May 14 hip-check on Steve Nash, when both Stoudemire and Diaw left the bench while not in the game. I was hoping one of them would pull a Bill Clinton, “It depends on what the meaning of ‘the immediate vicinity of their bench’ is.”
Throughout TNT’s coverage of the playoffs last night, Charles Barkley sounded off in disgust after learning of the suspensions handed down by the front office. Just as I previously stated, Barkley eluded to the fact that it’s a natural reaction for a player to rise from the bench and approach an altercation out of concern for one’s teammate. Barkley then went on to explain that he feels suspensions should only be handed out in this scenario, “if you do anything to make the situation worse.” Now would be a prime opportunity for me to point out all of Barkley’s exceptional decisions when initially reacting to a situation, but for the sake of your time, I’ll assume that you at least know that Barkley is not famous for mediating altercations. In fact, most athletes aren’t famous for their calming interventions. This is why a rule such as this needs to be in place.
Stoudemire, Diaw, and the many others that have been suspended since the implementation of this rule, may have very well meant no further harm when leaving the bench. However, there is no need for more bodies than the ten already on the court to get involved. In the heat of the moment, the simple act of leaving the bench and approaching the situation, is often perceived as a threat. If for example, either Stoudemire or Diaw was pushed by or engaged in words with one of the Spurs already on the court, the problem is then escalated. I would agree with Barkley if players could prove that their involvement coming from the bench could help resolve more fights than fuel them. Problem is, they haven’t proved that since the NBA has been around, and that is exactly why this rule is in affect.
One of my fondest memories of playoff basketball is without question the game four fight between the Knicks and the Heat in 1998. I vividly remember Alonzo Mourning not only exchanging girl swings with Larry Johnson, but also trying his best to shake Jeff Van Gundy off of his leg while sweeping him around the court. Those were the good old days. Fights were not as ego driven, and the players that fought those fights played with a passion that I’m afraid we will never see again. Fast forward six years to the now termed, “Malice at the Palace.” On November 19, 2004, the NBA may have suffered its darkest day ever, when the likes of Ron Artest and Stephen Jackson went into the crowd and began punching fans. Only four players, Chauncey Billups, Elden Campbell, Reggie Miller, and Derrick Coleman were each suspend one game for leaving their respective benches. None of these players did anything to make the situation worse, therefore Barkley would probably say these suspensions were not warranted either. My response to Barkley would be, how often do you have four veterans waiting in the wings to help diffuse a situation such as in that case? What if both benches that night were comprised of more loose cannons like Artest and Jackson?
So far the 2007 NBA Playoffs have been great. Action packed and passion filled. If I didn’t see a reaction from a bench after they saw their point guard and leader get launched into the scorer’s table, I would be very concerned. I say stand up, get angry, scream and swear, but don’t leave the bench, and most importantly trust the game. If something happens to one of your own, there are four other guys out there that have his back. The best referees in all of sports, contrary to whatever some bogus study says, are more than capable of sorting out the antagonists. More people on the court simply add to the confusion and make the refs that much more irritated. Let your game talk when you get subbed back in. Win the series.