The 2017-2018 season of the National Basketball Association is a fourth done, and it’s clearly developing like no other before it. To date, 10 marquee names have earned ejections from games, a ridiculously high number given the league’s longtime — if unspoken — edict allowing stars a longer leash when it comes to reactions to calls or non-calls. In this regard, it must be noted that the official rules give referees considerable leeway when it comes to sending players to the showers — which is to say they have the discretion to exercise, or not exercise, patience.
Significantly, the arbiters’ relatively quick whistles came to the fore during the Cavaliers-Heat set-to last week, when LeBron James was banished for the first time in a 15-year career spanning 1,299 games. In the words of Kane Fitzgerald, the four-time Most Valuable Player’s penalty “was a culmination of a couple different acts… Immediately after the no-call, he turned and threw an air punch directly at me, and then he aggressively charged at me, and then he used vulgarity in my ear a few times.”
Which, for James, simply meant he did what he had hitherto been accustomed to doing without sanction. It didn’t look particularly egregious in real time, and he was probably surprised it elicited a strong reaction from Fitzgerald. To his credit, though, he accepted his fate without question both immediately and in retrospect — unlike, say, Stephen Curry or Anthony Davis, who went into fits and had to be restrained, or Kevin Durant, who continued spewing expletives and resorted to sarcasm when asked about it in the aftermath.
The point, to be sure, isn’t that referees are wrong to crack down on excessive complaining. Given the players’ athleticism and all the action it engenders, the men in gray are hard-pressed to see all the illegal contact, and being scolded constantly can’t be helping things any. On the other hand, there’s a reason stars are supposed to be given much leeway; above all else, they put backsides in seats. A middle ground is the ideal, but absent that, a spirited effort to strike it would go a long, long way.
Anthony L. Cuaycong has been writing Courtside since BusinessWorld introduced a Sports section in 1994. He is the Senior Vice-President and General Manager of Basic Energy Corp.