Disrespect has become a punchline. It is the word chosen to describe acts done on the basketball court that are increasingly fun for NBA fans. A crossover, a stare down, a heat check three; all moves that can be described as disrespectful without being true to the exact definition of the word.
Disrespect is the basis of most unwritten rules in the world of sports. They’re, essentially, minor discourteous acts that aren’t perceived well by the person they are directed at. The problem is it is not so certain that these unwritten rules even exist in the NBA like they do in the other professional sports.
One example of this would be Steve Kerr allowing his players to coach for an entire game against the Phoenix Suns. This scenario became the most recent debate about if the general population should be angry or not, and barely anyone in the NBA seemed to care.
The Suns’ Jared Dudley acknowledged that it could be construed as a lack of respect, but he put the blame on the Suns instead of Kerr. Suns interim head coach Jay Triano said “I don’t think so” when asked if the move was disrespectful, and Kevin Durant asked the question that was most needed, “Who gives a sh*t?”
Quite possibly the most talked about unwritten rule in basketball is how to conduct yourself on the winning end of a blowout with seconds to go. The reason this invisible regulation gets discussed more than the rest is because the opposing players get the most upset about it — being blown out is bad on its own but conceding defeat and watching the other team score an uncontested basket produces flared tempers and long monologues about the proper etiquette of basketball.
Rick Carlisle angrily strode past Steve Kerr following a late dunk by Jordan Bell this season, leading to speculation about its merit. Damian Lillard also became upset when Chris Paul took a layup with little time left although CP3 “shrugged off” the incident. Dario Saric did something similar in the Philadelphia 76ers’ most recent game against the Cleveland Cavaliers and Chris Webber, who was calling the game at the time, indicated that it was simply “manufactured outrage.”
These unwritten rules that teams used to abide by studiously no longer mean as much. As a society we are focused on so much more than minor disrespect. Indirectly disrespecting someone is no longer too big of a deal as so many more people are spewing harmful things that need to be combated.
Players in the NBA, most of which are at the front line when it comes to fighting things like racism and bigotry, can’t muster up enough outrage over these silly rule breaks. Instead, they are looked to for leadership on important societal issues.
Unwritten rules have a way of dragging down the structures that their non-existent words regulate. With the amount of people that consume major sports in today’s world, there are simply too many more hurtful ideas that garner attention. Actions that are not directly harmful to another player are simply seen as a part of the game.
People watch the NBA as a form of positive escapism from their real life. They want to watch the sport for the emotion it was intended to garner: fun. They can not be asked to care about rules that are so minuscule and that they know so little about.
The players may have a loose idea of the rules but they constantly break them, anyway, and most don’t care unless they are on the receiving end, moments that occur with adrenaline rushing and competition set at full blast.
Players still have guidelines on trash talk, speaking with the media negatively about your teammates, and intentionally injuring players. Unwritten rules still exist in some form, they are just more severe “laws” that make sense in a world with more severe conversations. They all directly hurt someone, without need for inference.
There is ultimately much worse things than scoring a basket late in a game about scoring baskets or allowing players to greater control the game they are playing. Fans and players seem to have come to this understanding, discussions of these moments seem as ancient as the rules themselves. It is time to move on from these discussions like the antiques they are.