On last night's episode of Inside the NBA, Hall of Famers and analysts Charles Barkley and Shaquille O'Neal were laughing their asses off upon learning that the Houston Rockets-Los Angeles Clippers post-game turmoil required "police presence:"
The same guys who have called the league "soft" weren't about to take the idea of a 6'10" dude (Blake Griffin) needing security aid seriously. Check it: he was up against someone who is essentially a full foot shorter than him (the 6'1 ex-Clipper Chris Paul). An isolated case can be made fun of, but the NBA isn't messing around, ordering the investigation of similar incidents.
Yesterday, Arron Afflalo (ORL) found himself in a headlock after missing a haymaker directed at Nemanja Bjelica (MIN). Two days ago, Ben Simmons (PHI) and Kyle Lowry (TOR) almost brought their on-court jabbering into the tunnel. Last week, James Johnson (MIA) staked his spotless MMA record against Serge Ibaka (TOR), which had both players suspended.
Is this a byproduct of the worsening relationship between players and referees? Not too long ago, superstars were being ejected left and right—LeBron James and Anthony Davis for the first time in their careers, then Kevin Durant. When asked about the officiating after teammate Russell Westbrook was tossed, Carmelo Anthony could only sigh: "I'm done with the refs."
Even with officials noticeably trigger-happy in blowing the whistle these days, more players are testing the limits of physicality by getting testy with one another. Does this reflect the umpires' inability to control these kinds of situations? Is the number of personnel handling each game, which is three, really not enough?
Old-school fans who fell in love with the game while watching enforcers like Bill Laimbeer and Charles Oakley would enjoy the extra chippiness in recent matches. A little pushing and trash talk could add dimension to an otherwise no-bearing game. After all, who wouldn't want to see thier favorite player all fiery and fiesty on the court?
But on the flipside, these episodes are hurting the Association's efforts to create a family-friendly brand. The same day as the HOU-LAC locker room altercation happened, dancing wunderkid Tavaris Jones stole the spotlight during halftime of the Cavs-Dubs primetime. Catching games live now presents the dilemma of children witnessing athletes getting physical.
At the end of the day, where do you draw the line between competitive fire and a league-wide wildfire breaking out? How do you separate the physical exchanges, which are part of the game, from the rooted, more personal encounters? Can a trip down the Bad Boys era be prevented, while not denying those who follow the sport a good fight?
The NBA has blatantly taken advantage of drama-filled storylines, prioritizing duels that feature a player and the team that traded him, or bad blood between estranged allies. Although it should be equally responsible for keeping things in check, which can be achieved by its own personnel calling the games tighter. We simply can't have the refs throwing everyone out.