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Saturday, January 31, 2009

NBA Upgrades Bynum's Flagrant Foul Against Wallace

Late in the fourth quarter of Charlotte's 117-110 double overtime win versus the Lakers, Andrew Bynum was called for a Flagrant 1 foul after delivering a sharp elbow to Gerald Wallace's chest. That blow collapsed Wallace's left lung and fractured one of his ribs and upon further review the NBA upgraded the foul from a Flagrant 1 to a Flagrant 2, meaning that in their judgment Bynum should have been ejected (a Flagrant 2 carries an automatic ejection). The NBA elected not to suspend Bynum but he has accumulated three flagrant foul points this season (two for this incident plus one from an earlier Flagrant 1 call) and any player who gets five flagrant foul points in one season is automatically suspended for a game.

I don't think that Bynum is a dirty player but what he did to Wallace is a dirty play. It is not a natural basketball act to violently swing one's elbow into the chest of another player; it is quite dangerous to do so and not at all surprising that this resulted in a fairly serious injury. As TNT's Gary Payton said, Bynum should have raised his arms up to try to block Wallace's shot and then if Bynum had swung down and fouled Wallace on the arms there would be no problem.

Whether or not Bynum intended to injure Wallace is not the issue; Charlotte Coach Larry Brown said that Bynum came to their team bus to apologize and find out how Wallace was but lack of intent/feelings of remorse do not change the nature of one's actions. If your actions cause a car accident that injures others it does not matter if you did not intend to cause those injuries; you are still responsible for them.

By the same token, even if Wallace had emerged unscathed that would not change the fact that Bynum's play was dirty, because it simply is not acceptable to throw high elbows/forearm shivers into the chests of defenseless, airborne players. The NBA was right to upgrade the foul. The decision not to suspend Bynum obviously reflects the NBA's belief that this was in fact an accidental play by someone who does not have the reputation for being dirty and that is also the correct decision. Bynum deserves the benefit of the doubt unless or until he starts piling up a number of such plays.

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posted by David Friedman @ 2:17 AM



At Saturday, January 31, 2009 3:54:00 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

I watched the play numerous times during the game, and have seen it several times since. I disagree with your calling it 'dirty,' unless you think all intentional fouls are dirty.

Wallace was flying through the lane. Bynum was (and acknowledged as much later) late getting there. His intention was to foul Wallace and prevent a layup. Bynum did not, in fact, 'swing' his elbow into Wallace's chest. He was moving laterally. The impact was provided by Wallace's foward motion and Bynum's pretty much stable resistance.

I agree with the rest of you post. But I wouldn't call it dirty. That implies malice.

At Saturday, January 31, 2009 5:47:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


As I made clear in the post, I do not believe that there was "malice" on Bynum's part but I stand by my statement that this was a dirty play. Whether one says Bynum "swung" his elbow or that he led with his elbow, that is not a natural basketball play; you don't try to block a shot with your elbow. Watch the play one more time--the first part of Bynum's body that contacted Wallace was his elbow/forearm. If Bynum had been trying to block the shot/commit a "hard foul" then he would have contacted him with his hand. What he did is just a bad, dangerous play. I understand that this resulted from Bynum being out of position but sometimes if you are out of position you just have to let a play go rather than do something that carries a high risk of injuring another player; I would say the same thing about undercutting someone on a fast break--if you don't have the correct angle to make a legit play on the ball, then you just have to let the play go.

Again, an "intentional foul" in which Bynum made a play for the ball with his hands would have been perfectly fine, even if the contact had been very physical; that kind of play is expected at the NBA level.

Let me emphasize that I am not calling Bynum a dirty player--but this particular play was a dirty play. Someone can do something bad without being a bad person--people who repeatedly and intentionally do bad things are bad people.

At Saturday, January 31, 2009 6:21:00 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

David, thanks for responding. First, I had watched the play again before writing, and now I've watched it several times more at your urging. This might be degenerating into semantics, but I still don't get calling it dirty. Your point about good people doing bad things sometimes is well-taken. However, from three different angles, Bynum's arm/elbow was thrust perpendicular to Wallace's direction - not head-on or even at a slight angle. It so happened that it was his elbow against the chest, but it could have been his opposite arm instead, or (if he'd gotten there a split-second sooner) his right palm.

Clearly, the best play would have been to let him go. Let's hope as a good person, Bynum has learned that lesson.

But I still believe this was just an intentional foul - with bad repercussions and deserving to be Flagrant.

Is it a more 'natural basketball play' to wrap ones arms in a bear hug around a shooter? Or grabbing a jersey at mid-court on a breakaway? Or hacking a dribbler's arm with a 'foul to give?'

In all those cases the intent is just to deliver an intentional foul.

Had Bynum's arm/elbow been up around the neck or head, that's another story. But going for the meaty part of the body is considered the 'proper' way to foul a man. It was just unfortunate.

At Saturday, January 31, 2009 11:01:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


As you suggest, at some point this just boils down to semantics but the part of the play that I object to is that Bynum led with his forearm/elbow. I don't see how you can compare that to hacking someone on the arm or to grabbing someone who is on the ground (grabbing an airborne player can be dangerous in certain circumstances as well). I don't think that anyone is suggesting that Bynum is a dirty player but in my opinion that was a dirty play, even though I don't believe that Bynum intended it to be dirty.

There is a difference between an intentional foul and a dirty play. An intentional foul can be holding down a shooter or dunker's hands and forcing him to make two free throws, grabbing someone late in the clock because your team has a foul to give or even simply wrapping your arms around Shaq or another poor free throw shooter as a "Hack a (whoever)." Those are all basketball plays. I can't think of any situation where it is a basketball play to fly toward someone and nail him in the chest with your forearm/elbow; that's just not a good play.

At Sunday, February 01, 2009 1:44:00 PM, Blogger The Dude Abides said...

Definitely boiling down to semantics. It was a reckless play, and Bynum's inexperience played a part. You don't lead with your elbow when someone's flying through the air. I actually thought that a one-game suspension would be warranted, with the NBA stating publicly that it could have been more, but Bynum showed remorse and the play was not done with malice. Anyway, I'm really hoping his knee injury isn't season ending.

At Sunday, February 01, 2009 10:56:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

The Dude Abides:

I was sure that the NBA would upgrade the foul and I was actually a little surprised that the game officials did not do so at the time after looking at the video (such in-game reviews are standard procedure now and there is no question that this was a Flagrant 2 Foul). I think that Bynum's remorse--and lack of a track record as a dirty player--enabled him to avoid a suspension.

That knee injury looked nasty; it reminded me of the blow that ended Jayson Williams' career but the fact that Bynum could put weight on the leg hopefully will turn out to be a good sign.


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