Thoughts on the Horry/Stoudemire/Diaw SuspensionsPredictably, the NBA suspended Robert Horry for two games and Amare Stoudemire and Boris Diaw one game each in the aftermath of the ugly finish to Game Four of the Spurs-Suns series. Reasoned discourse on this subject is very difficult to find because virtually everyone who is discussing the issue has a horse in the race or an ax to grind (pardon the mixed metaphors). The first, most important thing to consider is the first word of the first sentence of this post: "predictably." Right after Horry delivered his cheap shot to Steve Nash, Stoudemire and Diaw left the Suns' bench and anyone who knows anything about the NBA knew exactly what would happen next, namely that Horry, Stoudemire and Diaw would be suspended. The NBA's official explanation is that Horry got one game for the foul on Nash and a second game for throwing a high elbow at Raja Bell. Stoudemire and Diaw received the automatic suspensions that any player gets for leaving the vicinity of the bench when an altercation occurs. This rule is well known and has been strictly enforced before, including during an even more bitter and contentious series in 1997 between Miami and New York. Instead of being angry at the NBA for doing something that is quite predictable, fans should be angry and disgusted at Stoudemire and Diaw for losing their heads at a very critical moment. Again, let me emphasize: everybody knows this rule, it has been enforced strictly in previous playoff series--and no one else from either team violated it. Let's break down some things that have been said about this situation.
It has been suggested that since Horry instigated the incident the Suns should not suffer the bulk of the punishment. Horry was immediately ejected and later suspended two games for what he did; he did not "get away" with anything. If Stoudemire and Diaw had stayed seated then they would be playing in Games Five and Six while Horry would not: advantage Suns in that instance.
Others have stated that the rule regarding leaving the vicinity of the bench is a bad rule that should be changed. The rule is designed to prevent escalation of on court altercations. In the heat of the moment, no one knows if someone who is rushing into the fray is a peacemaker or not. Rudy Tomjanovich was almost killed by a Kermit Washington punch when Tomjanovich tried to be a peacemaker in an NBA fight three decades ago. This rule has played a big part in curbing on court violence in the NBA, as have rules regarding flagrant fouls and the automatic ejection that occurs if a player throws a punch, even if the punch does not connect. By making this a hard and fast rule, the NBA has tried to get rid of the whole macho ethic that made players feel like they had to run on to the court to avoid looking like wimps. Everyone knows that running on to the court leads to a suspension, so most players have enough sense to not do it. It is easier to defuse a situation with just 10 players, three officials and some coaches than it would be to defuse a situation that includes an additional 14 players.
I have no sympathy for Horry, Stoudemire or Diaw, just like I had no sympathy for Carmelo Anthony and everybody else involved in the Knicks-Nuggets incident in December 2006. The NBA's rules about fighting, about escalating a situation and about leaving the bench are very clear. As Commissioner Stern has said, any player who is not able to abide by the rules will have to find another line of work. If the Suns really believe that Horry did this intentionally to start a fight or get some of their players suspended then they were pretty foolish to allow that to happen. All they had to do was remain calm--as Nash did, for the most part--and Horry would have been the only player who was suspended.
Game Five is actually a great opportunity for two-time MVP Nash. Some people compare him to Magic Johnson--which is patently absurd. In Game Six of the 1980 NBA Finals, the Lakers were without the services of regular season MVP Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who suffered a sprained ankle in Game Five (not a migraine, as Dan Patrick incorrectly said this weekend during ESPN's NBA coverage). Johnson responded by producing 42 points, 15 rebounds and seven assists as the Lakers won the game and the title. He received the Finals MVP for his efforts; Magic was a 20 year old rookie at the time. Nash won the second of his two MVPs largely because of how well the Suns did in the regular season even though Amare Stoudemire missed all but three games. Of course, the Suns did not win the title and have yet to make a Finals appearance with Nash at the helm. Game Five is a golden opportunity for Nash to outduel Tim Duncan, who in addition to also being a two-time MVP is a three-time Finals MVP. If Nash really is the best player in the game then this would be a good time to show it. Regardless of what happens, I know two things: Nash will play well and if the Suns lose he will make fewer excuses for himself and his team than his many supporters will.
posted by David Friedman @ 8:24 AM