For the love of Stern, can we relax about the new tech rules?
Posted by Matt Moore
In the beginning, there was complaining.
It's pretty natural, really. You're body-to-body, struggling, fighting, adrenaline rushing, and the whistle blows. You can't possibly think you did anything that could be considered a foul (especially not after how you were just elbowed at the other end of the floor!) and so you complain. It probably wasn't all that bad in the beginning, a hundred years ago.
It is now.
Then, there was the complaining about the complaining. And lost in this newest wave of outrage is the fact that there genuinely was a great deal of complaining about the complaining. Casual NBA fans? They loathe what they see when there's a whistle. Grown men, professionals, whooping and hollering, badgering officials, acting like they've just been stubbed on the toe by a whistle. Most of the time for a foul that was pretty easy to call. It reflects poorly on the game and every time it happens, a friend will point and say "that's why I don't follow the NBA." As if that were to somehow overtake the athleticism, the tactics, the chemistry, the powerful emotion of the game. But it does. It reflects poorly on the game.
So the NBA decided to do something about it, finally.
And now, finally, we've reached the zenith of this ridiculous story. There's now complaining about the rules designed to help with all the complaints about the complaining.
Welcome to the Catch-22, David Stern. Have fun trying to make people happy who cannot be made so.
Last night in a meaningless exhibition game, Jermaine O'Neal was whistled for a bad technical foul. At least, that's what it seemed like to the camera's eye, which is what everyone uses (we'll get into how that's a flawed start in a minute). It certainly didn't seem like O'Neal was worthy of a technical foul. It was a bad call, the same kind of bad call that's been made since the invention of the modern game and will be made for as long as officials are human. As Ken Berger of CBSSports.com reported last night , it's probably an issue with both sides trying to find where the line exists.
Kevin Garnett? That was not a bad call. I understand that the paying fans at Madison Square Garden didn't come to see Garnett ejected. I get that we want players like KG to be able to play with emotion, with their passionate hearts on their sleeves. You're absolutely right that emotion is a pivotal part of the game's heart.
What Garnett was doing? What he usually does? It's not. It's intimidation at worst, and overreaction in the least, and he needed to be tossed under the new rules. Arguing the call by trying to show the foul, that's debatable. If he was calm, cool, and collected, then the first technical would have been completely wrong. Let me ask you this:
When was the last time you saw or heard of Kevin Garnett being calm, cool, and collected on a basketball court?
We have no idea what he said to the officials, and that's the biggest problems here. He could have said "Good sir! I heartily object, and though I respect your opinion, I was wondering if we might discuss the issue for a brief moment!" We don't know. We're reacting based on microphone muted interpretations of what we see on screen, without a clue of what was actually said by these players. I'd imagine if the officials were able to come out and say what the players said to them, we might feel differently. We'd also probably feel differently about the players, and that's not something the NBA wants at all. For all the talk today about how the league is victimizing the poor players, they could just mike up everything, let the profanity be released in a transcript, and then see how those endorsement dollars come rolling in.
But, no. We side with the athlete because it's his work we appreciate. His work, being the key phrase there. These are professionals. They always want to talk about that. How they are professionals and deserve to be paid as such. That they'll switch teams because they're professionals or hold out because they are professionals or don't care about the fans because they're professionals. But they can't control themselves on the floor? We're talking most often about guys who are 25 years of age or older. Grown men, who can't control their own reactions to something they know won't change no matter what they say or do? Do you think Kendrick Perkins screaming "What?!" or Tim Duncan's eyes bulging or Kobe Bryant making faces will actually convince a referee to say "Oh, you know what? When you put it that way, you're right. You didn't foul him. I'm sorry. Let me change this call."? No. The calls won't change. It's just complaining for complaining's sake, or it's an attempt to influence the outcome by pressuring officials. And that's a serious problem.
You don't want to go down that road, and it's one that gets tread upon a lot in an NBA season. It's not an epidemic, but it's enough to want to force the players to pump the breaks. It's the same as Phil Jackson flexing his muscle in press conferences. Last night, after the first technical, Kevin Garnett had to be restrained by another teammate from coming at the official. He wasn't going to hurt him. He wasn't going to do anything but scream and yell. That's pretty obvious. But let me ask you something. If a man of KG's height, width, and intensity is charging at you screaming like a lunatic, are you going to get a little rattled? Because I would wet myself and call games however it is the big scary man wants me to. And that's not how you want NBA games called.
The final piece of this ridiculous counter-reaction to a call for responsible, mature behavior is the "robot" argument. "I want my players to play with emotion, not be robots!" As if this behavior has anything to do with the emotion of the game. The new rules don't prohibit a fist pump after a big shot down the stretch. From a defeated collapse or hitting the floor after a player knocks down a tough shot over you. It doesn't prevent the hip bumps, chest bumps, high-fives, fist-pounds, jersey-popping, or any of the other things that produce imagery we've come to love about this game. There isn't an ounce of in-game emotion that's being sapped by this rule set.
It's just a measure to force grown men to act as such. If you're capable of shrugging through that mid-March game with the zeal and intensity of a manic-depressive tree slug, you're capable of keeping perspective enough to know that the call was made on you, and whether you like it or not, it is. And it will happen again within the hour, no doubt. If you're mature enough to be paid millions of dollars for your role on a team vying for a championship, you should be mature enough to not badger and scream when something doesn't go your way.
Complaining in the NBA isn't an epidemic. It was simply something that reflected poorly on the game and needed to be corrected. The league took an initiative as such. People say that the market research the NBA is claiming is somehow fabricated, because no one's actually complaining about the complaining. Right. Just like no one wants to hear about LeBron James, as traffic on Heat posts grow to phenomenal numbers.
The NBA does things badly sometimes, like any sports league. And officials will often get calls wrong, like the call on Jermaine O'Neal last night. But in this instance, asking the players to temper their reactions isn't just reasonable, it's the right thing to do, and the game will be better for it, for casual and hardcore fans alike.
You can consider this the complaining about the complaining in response to the rule brought about because of complaining in order to limit complaining.