How odd that the Phil Jackson era in the NBA seems to have ended in a game where his players seemed to demonstrate very little Zen.
Forget about the apparent finger pointing on the Lakers bench, which notoriously shows about as much cohesion as the Ewing family at a will reading.
Also of irrelevance is Lamar Odom’s hard shove on Dirk Nowitzki. In the heat of the moment, athletes that are toe to toe can act upon over-competitive urges and get a little too physical with each other. That kind of contact is a little bit acceptable, and it’s good for the game. It gets competitive juices flowing. Besides, at least they were, in fact, toe to toe, right?
If you haven’t seen the footage by now, with eight minutes and change left in Game 4 of the Western Conference Semi-Finals between the Los Angeles Lakers and Dallas Mavericks, Bynum decided that it was the perfect time to become infamous.
As Dallas, with a 3-0 lead in the series, had the Lakers buried 98-68, burgeoning star JJ Barea of the Mavericks was driving for an easy lay-up when, as he was a few feet airborne, Bynum planted a deliberate elbow into Barea’s sternum. Barea landed in a heap on the parquet, and remained down for a little while.
The officials wasted no time in ejecting Bynum from the game. Bynum, in turn, removed his jersey and walked off with his head up, without a hint of remorse, drawing more attention to his cowardly move.
What does it say about one’s behavior when you have to be escorted out of a game by Ron “Who Threw That?!” Artest?
Fortunately, Barea was able to stand after about 30 seconds. It seems, at worst, that he merely had the wind knocked out of him, but it certainly looked scarier. Barea, had his descent after the hit began just mere inches higher, would have ended up landing on his head.
Then what? Barea could have broken his neck or suffered a serious concussion. Does the NBA, which has had numerous instances of outlandish violence (namely the Artest incident in 2004), really want that kind of image projected on a nationally televised afternoon game on Mother’s Day?
That’s not to say the NBA should relegate their violence to small market games in January buried on NBA League Pass. It’s to say that the NBA’s been on pretty good behavior since Ron Artest‘s ugly scene in Auburn Hills six and a half years ago. Thanks to superstars like Kevin Durant, Derrick Rose, Dwyane Wade, Dwight Howard, and Blake Griffin, as well as entertaining television coverage on TNT and NBA TV, being a basketball fan is slowly becoming more en vogue.
Something like the Bynum cheap shot is a threat to that happy reality.
And that’s why I think the NBA needs to suspend Andrew Bynum for life.
Now, to some, this may seem a bit harsh. Bynum has, for his part, been a pretty upstanding citizen, as well as seemingly a designated spokesman for the Lakers. It seems like I’ve seen him interviewed after most Lakers games this season, and he comes off as classy and respectable.
Whatever got into him with 8:21 left in the game on Sunday afternoon is a mystery.
And THAT is why you give him the ban.
The play itself was cowardly. Barea, barely 175 lbs on a lean six foot frame, was airborne, driving toward the net on a lay-up attempt, not looking to his blind spots. After all, the NBA has rules that forbid players from contacting someone attempting lay-ups, so he really had no reason to have his head on a swivel, making sure the coast was clear. Once the lane was open and he began his ascent, the rules were in his favor.
And then Bynum plowed into him with all his might.
Did I mention that Bynum is seven feet tall, and weighs 285 lbs?
Besides, it was 98-68. The Lakers season was as finished as a certain bullet-riddled Al-Qaeda leader. What difference are two more points going to make? It wasn’t a close game where a player can try and shift the momentum with a hard foul; the outcome was no longer in the balance.
So really, Bynum just did it out of frustration. He hit a defenseless man that was a foot smaller than him, 110 pounds lighter than him, and nearly caused a severe injury, all because he was mad that his team was losing.
When you’re mad, tip over a Gatorade bucket or kick a chair. Punch the wall in the locker room, or break something that has little or no value.
You don’t try to break another human being.
When Ron Artest was suspended for the remainder of the 2004-05 season, the NBA instituted new rules to protect the fans, as well as the players. Players entering the stands could expect harsh reprisal, and fans who threw objects at players and officials could expect a similar rebuke.
With the NBA taking a hardline stance on harmful aggression, you can depend on Bynum to receive a serious punishment.
In all likelihood, he’ll get a lengthy suspension to begin the 2011-12 season, but I don’t think it’s enough. Because that would ignore the danger that Bynum demonstrated on Sunday afternoon.
Had Barea needed serious medical attention, perhaps even a stretcher ride out of the arena, then my call for a ban would hold more weight. Bynum can consider himself lucky that JJ Barea is relatively alright.
But there should never be a ‘next time’. Banning Bynum sends a SERIOUS hardline stance: deliberately striking another player when he can’t defend himself is cowardly, no matter who you are. It should never, ever be tolerated. Banning Andrew Bynum today protects other players tomorrow.
The NBA has come too far to allow for a gray area in the violence category. I love this game, and I want to continue loving this game.
So does the rest of the world. Don’t give them reasons to hate it.
Justin Henry is a freelance writer whose work appears on many websites. He provides wrestling, NFL, and other sports/pop culture columns for CamelClutchBlog.com, as well as several wrestling columns a week for WrestlingNewsSource.com and WrestleCrap.com. Justin can be found here on Facebook – http://www.facebook.com/notoriousjrh and Twitter- http://www.twitter.com/cynicjrh.
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