Sports Opinion & Analysis

Groin Altercations in the NBA: Why Things Probably Won’t Change

In NBA on March 7, 2013 at 8:35 am

By Jeff Weyant

Ibaka is either playing defense, casing the joint, or both.

Surprisingly, LeBron James said tweeted it best:

“So explain to me the difference? My teammate gets a 1 game suspension and 150k+ taking (sic) away from him for his groin altercation .”

He’s referring to the moment when Dwyane Wade kicked Ramon Sessions in the groin and was subsequently suspended for a game, a loss of salary amounting to around $150,000. At that time (late December – so like just two months ago) the league office felt that a “groin altercation” was worth a one-game suspension, even for a player like Wade who, the Heat organization repeatedly and annoyingly stressed, had never been suspended for anything over the course of his ten-year career.

But in the case of Serge Ibaka, the league office felt that a groin altercation (and one of the better ones in NBA history) was worth a measly $25,000 fine, and for a player who, like Wade, has also never been suspended in his NBA career (but, to be fair, he’s only been in the league four and a half years).

James is justifiably perturbed. As many folks around the internet have opined the last few days, how do Stern and Co. (continue to) come up with these seemingly arbitrary and always aggravating punishments for a wide variety of player and coach infactions?

And it’s not hard to view them as arbitrary: as Tom Ziller points out, “by upgrading the foul and issuing a fine, the NBA ‘s disciplinary arm led by Stu Jackson isn’t making a case that contact between Ibaka’s hand and Griffin’s groin was incidental. The NBA is telling us straight up that after review officials believe it was indeed intentional.” Which then makes it wildly strange that Ibaka wasn’t suspended, even wilder considering Wade was suspended in December for essentially the same move (along with DeMarcus Cousins, who nutted O.J. Mayo a few weeks earlier and was also suspended). So if groin altercations were worth a suspension in December, what gives now that it’s March? Did Stu Jackson make a New Year’s resolution to be kinder to his subjects?

“We beseech thee, oh king, to spare us your wrath!” “Okay, no suspension, just give me twenty-five thousand dollars.”

Better yet, how does Metta World Peace, who nearly killed James Harden last year near the end of the regular season and who has a rather jagged history when it comes to punishable infractions, only serve a seven-game suspension? And is there a wheel in Jackson’s office with dollar amounts on it and to determine fines he gives it a spin? And why do some people get suspended and fined whereas some simply get suspended? Does he work out loss of salary and decide if that’s a large enough fine? If DeMarcus Cousins has to sit two games because he yelled at a TV announcer, why does Matt Barnes, who tried to crush Grieg Stiemsma’s windpipe, only sit one game? If Dwight Howard forcefully put his elbow in another player’s throat in the 2009 playoffs and recieved a one-game suspension, why did Kendrick Perkins, who did the exact same thing a few weeks later, get to play the next game?

An attractive explanation is that there’s a system but it includes variables that no one would ever think to include and therefore we’ll never figure it out unless Jackson or Stern opens a door or two and lets us see inside the nucleus of the NBA league office (an explanation that’s as outlandish as the events it’s attempting to explain). But that’s not likely to happen and for the same reason everyone wants more transparency and also the same reason that none of these suspensions and fines make any sense: In order to retain power, you have to horde information. Information is key to sustaining hegemonic rule. Stern, like any despot, knows this. The more information he gives out, the more avenues of attack open up to his enemies (and yes, he almost certainly sees everybody outside the league office as an enemy, which makes Richard Nixon a strong comparison subject).

Also Dr. Evil.

You might argue that Stern’s despotism is ruining the NBA and that he’s driving the once-thriving league into a ditch from which it will be hard to recover. And that if only he’d create and/or release rules and regulations when it comes to suspensions and fines (say, every general infraction has a set fine or suspension and every repeat infraction ups the fine on top of whatever it would normally be and at a certain point every finable offense is a suspension, and so on) things would all make sense and we wouldn’t have this problem and the NBA would be great and nobody would ever complain.

But Stern is smarter than that. He knows we’ll complain about anything. He also knows that what he’s done (specifically in the last decade) in terms of secrecy and inadequate disclosure hasn’t hurt the league at all. But then when he uses the phrase “hurt the NBA” it means something different than when you or I use it. For Stern, if something impacts the financial well-being of the league in a negative manner, it’s hurting the league. Anything else is basically irrelevant (which is to say it’s contingent upon the financial well-being of the league). For most of us, the prosperity of the league is secondary to the integrity of the league. But, according to Stern, how wrong we are. . .

As of March 2013, the NBA has never been more popular nationally or internationally and it’s only growing, making greater strides every year. Coffers are fuller (thanks to a new collective bargaining agreement), stars are bigger (thanks to technology and communication advances like Twitter, YouTube, and the internet in general), endorsements are more common (Diet Pepsi, of all things, has its own stable of NBA spokesmen), and each year the international competitions (Olympics, FIBA, EuroLeague) grow in popularity and competitiveness, both inside and outside the US. And this is all in spite of Stern’s Nixon-esque turn as NBA Commissioner.

So don’t expect more transparency. Stern’s heavy-handedness hasn’t stopped the league from increasing viewership and sponsorship every year (a trend which doesn’t show any real signs of fatigue or exhaustion) and if that’s the case, the only people that can exert meaningful pressure on him to change (the owners) will never do it. Because everyone in business, sadly, thinks the same way: if something ain’t broke (i.e. it’s profitable), don’t fix it, don’t touch it, don’t even look at it.

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