I’ve picked up a couple of new interests in my spare time recently: U2‘s new album (flat-out phenomenal), UFC (I still cover my eyes when it gets really gruesome), and hockey. Like any hockey newcomer, I tune in for the fights.
No matter the time period that you watch – whether it’s back when guys were allowed to swing on each other until someone hit the ice, or in today’s watered-down sissy era when refs break up fights if someone gets their jersey pulled over their head – hockey fights have always been strategic.
But unfortunately, we can’t say the same thing about basketball anymore. The tight-ass NBA’s restrictions have altered the way that hard fouls and physical play are viewed altogether.
It’s easy to blame the evolution of lightning-quick technical fouls, the proliferation of flagrant-two’s, and suspensions for everyone in the arena on what happened at the Palace back in ’04. And there’s no doubt that those events have changed the League forever. But that one instance was just that, one out-of-control episode that should be viewed as an aberration, not something that still needs to be so closely guarded against. No matter what Commissioner Stern’s office says, the League doesn’t trust its players today. That’s why refs sweep in and immediately T-up players who look at another guy the wrong way. It’s as though they’re afraid that a sideways look is an inevitable precursor to an all-out brawl.
It’s a shame, because in doing so, a great element of the game is lost. There are no more mind games. Watch this video of Dennis Rodman and Frank Brickowski – two absolute goons who were on the floor to intimidate the other team, clean the glass, dole out some hard fouls, and cuss.
If two guys tangled the way that Rodman and Brick did in this video today, they’d have both been T’d-up. Think about how that would affect the way they play. Their good, physical fight for a rebound (or sly, Worm-ish tactics as George Karl sees it) would ultimately cost their teams a point, cause their coach to yell at them, maybe result in a considerable fine, and give them a bad reputation.
It’s tough to imagine Brick playing in the League today. Odds are, he’d be a better version of Joel Przybilla type – a dude who puts up 14-18 points per night and 7-10 boards without being allowed to really get underneath someone else’s skin. That stat line is nowhere near as valuable as the psychological impact he had on the game playing for the Sonics in the ’90’s, when he was able to exchange un-pleasantries with another player without being reprimanded.
But at the same time, the League shouldn’t shoulder all of the blame for this development. For whatever reason, guys today seem to have quicker triggers than in years past to escalate, turning a stare-down into a shoving match into a full-on swinging fist fight in a matter of seconds. Zach Randolph‘s cold-cocking of Louis Amundson is an example this year. What would have happened if Amundson was more of a hot-head? That “incident” could have easily turned into a full-on brawl, and ended up plastered all over the news.
Unfortunately, these developments have impacted the game negatively. Maybe the image of the NBA is better off. But the enforcers – who had productive roles in the League fifteen years ago – aren’t around anymore.
The extracurricular activity after the Ariza-Fernandez incident last night was about as innocuous as it gets. In the heat of the moment, it looked like someone got decapitated – thus it’s understandable that players ran in and stood up for their teammate. No punches were thrown, no one got out of hand. It’s a shame that there might be suspensions for that. It doesn’t encourage the type of basketball that I want to watch.