The NBA, a microcosm that exemplifies the stupidity of zero-tolerance culture

A stupid, thoughtless rule is correctly interpreted to suspend two of the best players on the Phoenix Suns, effectively rewarding the Spurs for gooning the actual NBA MVP.

The NBA gave into the idea that basketball players can somehow be competitive without being emotional, that it’s possible to be fired up and all under control, that somehow star athletes are substitute parents. It created a rule where if there’s an altercation on the court, you cannot get up off the bench and onto the court without a minimum 1 game suspension. This has effectively encouraged teams to play dirty and cheap against star players on the opposing side, trying to goad the other team’s bench into a mistake.

All of this is the result of America’s love for “zero tolerance”. Zero tolerance takes away all judgment, there can be no mitigating circumstances, no thought, no possibility of someone ever looking at an issue objectively and zomg, possibly being accused of bias. Mindless, thoughtless, hard-set rule penalties cannot be discussed, disputed, or in any shape, way, or form affected by human judgment. As demonstrated so aptly by Bruce Bowen and Robert Horry, such inflexible rules are easily abused.

I am now boycotting the NBA Finals. No internet news, no TV, no radio.

So, would you say you have a zero-tolerance policy towards idiotic NBA rulings?

Seriously dude, lighten up. Your attempt to connect this with some grand societal flaw is pretty damn silly, and should probably have gone in P&R in any case.

But that’s what Jakub does!

We still love ya, though, dude.

For once it’s a fair cop, more or less, although “zero tolerance” does far more damage in schools than it does in the NBA.

I’m not trying to say that zero tolerance doesn’t lead to some really idiotic shit (especially in schools, as you say) just that the leap from “the NBA acted stupid” to “this is what’s wrong with America!” is a bit much for me. Why not take the first baby step of “this is what’s wrong with NBA officiating” first?

Not trying to connect it, just pointing out a common trend. In a culture that doesn’t accept zero tolerance policies, you wouldn’t have a rule like the one in the NBA.

Although, if the general notion gets sown that ZT is fucking up professional sports, it’s much more likely to see poll numbers decrying it, and thus politicians suddenly deciding it’s a bad thing. People don’t much care about the education system, but sports is a big deal.

So I support this being tied into a great societal flaw. You have to leverage what you can.

Well, that’s one way of looking at it.

The other is this: hard fouls on the court are in-game, on-court actions. Hey, I don’t like that fouls are a part of basketball. But they are, and they are used with a measure of strategy. And it’s not one-sided. The recourse for a foul on the part of the fouled is to play up the foul, in order to actually draw the whistle. Small guys, naturally, are notorious for it. Point being, you’ve got both guys angling for something in a foul, not just one.

As an aside, I hate how stuff like a knee to the groin can mysteriously go not just uncalled, but unpenalized after the fact (as the NFL does, which I support) even.

Bench-clearing, however, is not an in-game, on-court occurrence. Also, any bench-clearing incident where the benches truly did clear resulted in a fracas, as history has shown. Now, where do you draw the line at where to keep players? On the bench. That’s what it is there for. The argument is, a fight usually breaks about between two players, one from each team. You’ve got 4 guys for each team plus officials already on the court to break up the action (and hopefully not escalate it). How many dudes do you need to break up a fight? And the thing is, other guys rushing it with indeterminate motives has a profound effect on the dynamic of the incident. Guys see other guys running in, it puts players not even involved in the actual fight, who are just there to diffuse the one-on-one fight, on the defensive for not just themselves, but their teammates. That’s how things really escalate, and that’s what the rule is aiming to avoid.

Assuming that’s something you want to stop or prevent, you have to have that rule. Now, again, where do you draw the line? People argue case-by-case basis, and I can’t argue that really, but I can see the reasoning. One, fights may break out right in front of the bench, so adding some defined area of distance a player may travel from the bench is not a good idea, since any area beyond the bench is potential ground for a fight. Also, as I said before, basketball is a contact sport. Guys get fouled all the time, and guys getting fouled drop them by playing up the foul. As a result, players ought to be disciplined enough to not get inappropriately involved in an escalation of a foul (the most common causes of a tussle). It’d be like football players clearing their bench over a hard tackle. It’s part of the game, don’t make it worse by losing your cool.

That said, I’d rather players be ejected from the game in play than the next. There, go ahead Horry, foul Nash with 18 seconds left and see what happen. ONOES I AM EJECTED FOR 15 SECONDS. But there it is.

Also, as for zero-tolerance…Tim Duncan got up off the bench and headed downcourt illegally earlier in the game, and he was not suspended. So HMMMM.

You mean like the legal system? I’m speaking from personal experience here, the cops will cite a person for getting in a fight no matter how darn fired up you were.

Some actions there should be zero tolerance for. I’m not going to disagree that sometimes zero tolerance isn’t taken to silly extremes but having a black and white clear rule and penalty is sometimes a very good thing.

…not to mention very few complained about the policy, in place for ten years now, till this instant, when it became “ridiculous, moronic” and “antiquated” to quote a whiny-as-usual Bill Simmons.

— Alan

Actually, at least up here in Canada, the legal code is full of “you MAY be charged”. It’s always at the officer’s discretion. Then the Crown can choose to prosecute, and the judge can choose allow the case to continue or not. There’s a ton of room for discretion.

Bill Simmons, Chris Sheridan, Chris Broussard - and that’s just the ESPN commentators on the ESPN NBA front page.

Yeah, that Tim Duncan thing is what bugged me most about the whole thing, but I didn’t see that happen, just read about it in a Steve Kerr column. I’ve heard no other person bring it up until you just did, Bill.

The whole thing was just so stupid, and it really has diminished my desire to watch any more of these games. I’m not going to go spastic and declare a boycott or anything–I’m still interested in how it’ll all play out, just far less so. Once you realize that the games are pretty much subject to the whim of one guy with power, it makes the competition seem less like an actual competition.

The ironic thing is that I generally couldn’t care less about anything that happens in the NBA. I’m nuts about the college game, and go apeshit over NCAA tournament. I usually hate watching pro basketball. But these playoffs have been compelling on many levels. I’ve come to love watching Steve Nash play, and it’s cool watching Chicago mature into a decent team.

So thanks for turning me back off, Mr. Stern. Dumbass.

It occurred to me last night, as I watched the game, that David Stern was guilty of what he suspended Joey Crawford for doing to Tim Duncan before the playoffs. The analogy is a bit of a stretch, I realize, but part of what Joey Crawford did was overreact to Tim Duncan’s attitude and in so doing he decided to follow the letter of the law instead of the spirit. A player was showing him up after a foul, and you can’t have that, so he ejected him. Crawford crossed the line, according to Stern, and should have shown better judgment. In effect, he should have ignored being shown up and managed the game better.

David Stern fell into a similar trap. Instead of exercising his judgment, he chose to exercise his power and insert himself into the competition. He can blather all he wants about how his hands are tied by a hard and fast rule, but the fact is he could have easily exercised his judgment and thus would have gone a long way toward fixing the rule. He does this kind of thing all the time. He expects his officials to do the same (look at the way technical fouls were called all season: Rasheed Wallace was tee’d up with impunity, while I’d see Kobe Bryant whining all the time without repercussion…granted, I’m talking about seeing highlights as I didn’t watch the games, so, grain of salt).

David Stern better damn well hope Phoenix wins this series. If they don’t, he will have broken what was shaping up to be a great playoff season for his sport, will have delegitimized the eventual Western Coast Finals (and probably the NBA championship), and will have nigh about ruined the entire season. Hope going on a power trip is worth the swap.

But I’m probably just being hysterical.

Fuck David Stern. Fuck the NBA.

“Basketball is like poetry in motion, cross the guy to the left, take him back to the right, he’s fallin’ back then just J right in his face. Then you look at him and say…‘What?’”


Someone remind me why that rule is stupid, again? Part of being a millionaire playboy athlete is you need to control yourself. If you can’t, you don’t get to play. If players are “gooning” other players, there are already rules in place to suspend them or boot them from the league if it’s egregious enough.

There was no altercation at the time. If you leave the bench while pushing/shoving is going on, then you get suspended.

Maybe they should rewrite the rule so if you leave the bench but don’t touch an opposing player, you aren’t suspended. But it’s not like the rule is a secret or anything.

Because sports isn’t about being a robot. Sports is about passion and teamwork and effort. Getting up when your key teammate gets bodychecked into the scorer’s table is a natural instinct.

Moreover, they DID control themselves. They stopped. They didn’t intervene. They ran on and they stopped.

Sure, there’s room for discretion here too. But how fired up a person doesn’t factor much into the equation. It’s more of a situation where if the officer has discretion based on spot judgements of conflicting accounts of what happened, what the officer personally saw vs what the officer believes happened, etc.

If I run a red light and then stop halfway, in full view of an officer I know is there, I still expect to get a ticket.

You seem to believe that atheletes getting all fired is some sort of excuse for not controlling their own behavior and I have no idea why.

Well, that makes the rule more ambiguous, then. What constitutes an altercation?

Maybe they should rewrite the rule so if you leave the bench but don’t touch an opposing player, you aren’t suspended. But it’s not like the rule is a secret or anything.

That makes perfect sense to me, but as Commissioner Stern seems to look at it, he wants the rule to work more towards prevention than punishment. Which is sort of stupid, I have to admit.

Whaaaaaa, rules are hard!