by Jeff Siti - 05/13/2005
Sex and violence sells movies, everyone knows that. So why should professional sports be any different, it's all entertainment, right? NBA sidelines have been adorned with half-naked women for years and that's enriched the live game experience ten fold. Seriously, is there any other reason to go to an Atlanta Hawks game? But the girls can't do it alone. We need sex and violence. Enter Braveheart Ron Artest and half of the Indiana Pacers. Since November 19, 2004, the night of the Pacers - Pistons calamity, the NBA has received more attention than it has in years. The story was broadcast on mainstream news channels all over the world for months. And like they say, "there's no such thing as bad publicity." Lets face it, NBA fights help sell tickets.
The myth that professional basketball is not a physical game is dead, in America anyway. The sheer size and strength of the players dictates that there is a significant health risk involved in coming to blows with another player. Can you imagine if Shaquille O'Neal hadn't pulled that punch a few years ago when he swung at then Bulls' center Brad Miller? He'd still be in a coma. He may even be dead. Shaq was suspended for three games for throwing that phantom punch. That incident, however, was one of few in recent history.
But over the years some of the brightest and bravest have squared off in NBA fights, fearing neither injury to their bodies nor to their minutes. Before this season, why should they have? The league never handed out significant suspensions to anyone. Not even these guys.
In 1998 ex-teammates Alonzo Mourning and Larry Johnson came to blows during a Heat - Knicks playoff game. You may remember Jeff Van Gundy trying to restrain Mourning by latching onto his leg and being carried around like a lonely child.
In 1994, in a true stroke of genius, Chicago's Jo Jo English and Derek Harper from the Knicks started a bench clear during a playoff game directly in front of commissioner David Stern. Notorious thug Bill Laimbeer went toe to toe with the Chuck Wagon himself, Charles Barkley in 1990. During a playoff game between the Pistons and Sixers they exchanged words that ended up in a full-blown fistfight. They were both fined $20,000, which at the time was the heftiest fine ever for an NBA fight.
And in 1977, possibly the most well-know fight (well, it wasn't really a fight) in NBA history occurred during a bench clear in the middle of a game between the Houston Rockets and the Los Angeles Lakers. Kermit Washington of the Lakers took a running start and landed a haymaker on Rudy Tomjonovich of the Rockets that basically ended his career. Rudy T was hospitalized for weeks while Washington was only suspended for 26 games and went on to play several more years. At the time, Washington's suspension was the most severe that the league had ever handed down, until Ron Artest went hacking into the stands last November.
Most of the incidents listed above took place during playoff games, which isn't really a good idea because, well, it's the playoffs. No one wants to miss a playoff game. But in those days players weren't suspended for fighting. So in their playoff induced, heightened states of emotion, players allowed those emotions to spill out on the court, often times resulting in flying fists. But you never though, those guys must not care about the game. On the contrary, it made you feel as though they cared more than you did.
But recently there has been a decline in NBA fights. Until this year serious penalties still weren't being levied, so where have all the fights been? Where's the blood? The emotion? Could it be that players just don't care as much about the game as they used to, and that that apathy has translated into slow, boring, unwatchable regular season games? No way. That can't be it.
Let's be honest. Fighting is not a good thing. Our parents were right when they told us not to hit other people. But you have wonder if it isn't telling that there really aren't that many NBA fights any more. Hockey and football players fight almost every game, even baseball players fight from time to time and all they do is stand around for six hours. So there's no reason that, in the current, physical state of the NBA, we're not seeing more heated disputes. It's possible that players from other sports heave their bodies all over the place and simply rely on their protective gear to keep them relatively uninjured, which is something that basketball players can't do. If it comes down to it, it's basically two heavyweight boxers going at it without any gloves. There has to be a reason. And if it isn't lack of interest, it sure seems like it.
In fact, so few incidents involving NBA fights have ever occurred (recently) that most of the top suspensions ever served in league history don't involve fights between players.
That list follows:
--Ron Artest - 73 games - fights with fans in Detroit in 2004
--Latrell Sprewell - 68 games - puts head coach P.J. Carlisimo in stranglehold in 1997
--Stephen Jackson - 30 games - assists Ron Artest in attacking Pistons fans
--Kermit Washington - 26 games - punches Rudy T in the face in 1977
--Jermaine O'Neal - 25 games - helps Artest and Jackson attack fans, lands Kermit Washington-like wallop on one of them
--Dennis Rodman (finally) - 11 games - kicks courtside photographer in 1997
--Vernon Maxwell - 10 games - Artest's predecessor. Attacks fan in 1995.
--Nick Van Exel - 7 games - shoves official in 1996.
--Ben Wallace - 6 games - shoves Ron Artest, leading to the melee.
--Dennis Rodman - 6 games - head butts official in 1996.
Only one of the players listed above was suspended for fighting with other players. Wallace and Artest never fought in Detroit. In an unprecedented act of humanity, Ron Artest immediately retired to the scorer's table after Big Ben shoved him, where he was then hit with a soda.
One thing is for sure -- the emotion that filled games in the 80s, 90s, and previous decades has almost completely evaporated. Loses bother fans more than the players, and that makes no sense. You never want to see someone get hurt, but if it takes a few punches, suspensions and fines to let us know that the players care, it just may be worth it. The league has only benefited from November's brawl. No sports fan missed the NBA games following that incident, and viewers translate into dollars. No publicity is bad publicity? You got that right.