Yet another black eye

December 16th, 2006. Denver Nuggets at New York Knicks.

I’m a Pacers fan. So I’ve seen this all before. Last time, it was November 19, 2004.
The seconds are ticking down. The winning team is still playing hard, even though the game is in the books and the bench should be getting garbage time. The losing team commits a hard foul. And, seconds later, all hell breaks loose.

Before, it was the Pacers going into the stands, fighting Pistons players and fans. This time, no fans were harmed. But it was the same thing – players spilling into the stands, haymakers after the fight was nearly calmed down, excuses from every corner of the world.

When it happened two years ago, I had the Pacers’ back. I believed that they were provoked, that they acted out of emotion, that they should ultimately be forgiven for what came as common sense to men who had grown up fighting for their place in society.

After a few months, however, I realized the weight of the actions. I knew that these players, young men who make millions of dollars for playing a game, should have the foresight to keep their heads on straight. With everything that is at risk, no player should resort to fighting. As soon as you get your first paycheck, you’re at work on that court. You’re an adult.

Now, we have an act that could put the league’s top scorer out of the league for a handful of games – maybe up to a month. We have a bunch of overgrown bullies brawling all over the court because they couldn’t handle being blown out of a game, and the team blowing them out couldn’t handle holding back a little and keeping their egos in check. We have a huge brawl – one that has effectively set the NBA back two years.

Right back to where we were November 2004. Right back to when we were suspending Ron Artest for the rest of the season, setting up court cases, and wondering where the league could go from here.

Who is to blame? Really, everyone is. Every player who left the bench, who claims they were protecting their teammate’s back, yet did nothing but escalate the problem. Every coach who stood by and watched as their teams spun out of control, who may have mandated the initial hard foul from the bench, who attempted to justify the action of his team as some sort of heroic deed. Every official who didn’t notice the slow buildup, who couldn’t see the culmination of this event becoming Malice at the Palace Part II. Every fan who concedes that paying millions of dollars to any young man is going to somehow turn them into a picture perfect role model.

Everyone who didn’t see this coming. Again.

No one will remember the $1.5 million that Carmelo Anthony gave to fund a youth development center. No one will remember how the NBA Cares, or that they continue to fight illiteracy, or that they have adopted a new, more fan friendly persona. No one will remember that this new era of NBA Superstar – the Carmelos, the Wades, the LeBrons – are attempting to usher in a newer, cleaner, more Fan-Tastic brand of professional basketball.

No. Now the league’s sitting on trial, sporting another black eye – another shiner that will help NBA disparagers continue their campaign against the league. For all the good that the NBA has tried to do over the past two years, for everything that has been done to put a positive spin on a thug-friendly league, for every ounce of effort that went into making people forget the brawl in Detroit two years ago, the outcome of this fight will negate every last bit.

The good things that happen in basketball don’t make the papers. Only the bad. And this, like two years ago, is very bad. So as the NBA sinks further into the abyss, we can only hope that a trio of saviors can rescue the game from oblivion, much like Magic, Jordan, and Bird did after the brutal days of the mid-70s, of Kermit Washington’s punch and warring leagues.

Unfortunately, those saviors have already come. Even more unfortunately, one of them was involved deeply in this case; the prodigal son of the Le’Wad’elo trio. And most importantly, no amount of positive spin – no in depth, sympathetic Sports Illustrated article or NBA Inside Stuff expose – will let people forget this.

The public has been burned before. Why believe the league again?

This was lovingly handwritten on December 17th, 2006