mavs/heat and the deplorable nba

i really like reading bill simmons over at espn.com…
this time I just had to insert some of his writing here regarding the hard foul on Shaq by Jerry Stackhouse in game 4 that eventually drew a suspension for game 5 for Stack (which the refs gave to the Heat by 1 point in OT; still think the NBA doesn't fix games folks???)…

now, the prose….

Back to Stackhouse's "hard" foul: I watched all of Game 4, as well as SportsCenter after the game, and not a single announcer wondered whether Stack was retaliating for Shaq's three-stitch elbow in Game 1. For God's sake, do you know anything about Jerry Stackhouse? He's one of the toughest dudes in the league — if you made a list of "Players whose sister you wouldn't want to accidentally sleep with," he'd be right up there. When that Shaq elbow happened and Stackhouse was nodding angrily afterward — like, "OK, so that's how we're playing, gotcha" — I specifically remember thinking to myself, "I can't wait for the moment when Stack tries to get him back."

So when he cracked him in Game 4, that was my first reaction: "There it was! I knew it!" But it was a totally legal foul, and only the replay betrayed him — in slow-motion from one angle, you could see Stack sizing Shaq up for a brief second, much like the Posey-Hinrich incident in Round 1, and that's what ended up getting him suspended. And here's where the NBA has lost its grip a little bit. Shaq was running loose toward the basket for a free dunk and probably outweighs Stackhouse by 125 pounds. If Stackhouse did anything BUT foul Shaq as hard as he could, he would have bounced off Shaq like a 5-foot-10 cornerback bouncing off Antonio Gates, Shaq would have made the layup for a potential three-point play, and Hubie Brown would have told us, "See, now, when you are fouling in that situation … you cannot … give up … the three-point play." Basically, Stackhouse was screwed either way.

So here's my question: At what point are we compromising the competitiveness of these games? If you've ever played basketball, then you know that s—, um, staff happens during a competitive game. It's not abnormal for two teammates to start screaming at one another. It's not abnormal for someone to foul someone else a little bit harder than he intended. It's not abnormal for two opponents to start exchanging some good-natured barbs — if anything, that kind of dialogue always livens up the game and gets everyone else going.

Believe me, I understand why we reached this point — in the late-'90s, an entire generation of players weaned on hard fouls (like the McHale-Rambis clothesline), trash-talking superstars (like Bird and MJ) and constant woofing (from the Fab Five and UNLV in particular) ended up taking all three of those elements to inappropriate levels. I concede this point. But haven't we swung too much the other way now? For instance, when LeBron psyched out Gilbert Arenas at the free-throw line in the final game of the Cavs-Wiz series, that was one of my favorite moments of the playoffs — not only that LeBron had the confidence to do something like that, but that it reminded me of something that would happen on the playground, just two ballers talking smack before a big moment.

Of course, the NBA decided that this was deplorable and ordered their referees to prevent this from ever happening again. (God forbid the last two minutes of an NBA game was anything other than formulaic and predictable.) But I think this is one of the reasons why I enjoy watching those games from the '80s so much — not just because of the style of play (constantly moving, constantly going) but the competitive energy that never seemed to wane. Now guys are allowed to compete, but only to a point. It's like a glorified youth soccer game with more fans. And out of everything that's happened in the Stern Era, this was their biggest mistake. Well, other than continuing to have Bennett Salvatore work playoff games.

he also has this picture in the side bar of his latest column:
wade and free throws
with this tag line: Jesse D. Garrabant/Getty Images
If Miami wins the title, the new NBA slogan may be: "Free throws! They're FAN-tastic!"

i love this guy…

~d