The Plank

Nba Playoffs, Rip

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So, the NBA has decided to suspend two players from the Phoenix Suns, Amare Stoudamire and Boris Diaw, for one game apiece, and one member of the San Antonio Spurs, Robert Horry, for two games for their roles in an almost-altercation during Monday night's playoff game. In the closing seconds of a Spurs loss, Horry clotheslined Suns star Steve Nash into the scorers table; Stoudamire and Diaw both got up from the bench and took a few steps onto the court, but no actual fight took place.

Horry's suspension makes perfect sense: He committed a dangerous, deliberate foul against the opposing team's star in a game whose outcome had already been decided. Stoudamire and Diaw's suspensions, by contrast, are sheer insanity, resulting from an obtusely by-the-book reading of a rule that mandates suspensions for any players who leave the bench during a confrontation.

Never mind that the suspensions will probably give the series to the Spurs, whose player, remember, caused all of this. (Stoudamire is much more important to the Suns than Horry is to the Spurs.) Never mind that replays show that earlier in the game, Spurs stars Tim Duncan and Bruce Bowen both left the bench during another quickly defused altercation. (Neither has been suspended.) Never mind that league disciplinarian Stu Jackson has said that the rule probably needs to be changed (just not until after it's ruined the playoffs).

The abject stupidity of this ruling is that it makes a mockery of the purpose behind the no-leaving-the-bench rule. After all, there's nothing implicitly bad about getting up off the bench (players in fact routinely violate the rule when cheering and are never suspended for it). The reason for the rule is to prevent on-court violence--obviously, an admirable goal. But enforcing the rule without judgment in a case like this accomplishes exactly the reverse, by rewarding violent, dangerous fouls.

Say, you're a second tier player in a playoff series in which momentum seems to be shifting away from your team. Why not commit a flagrant foul at the end of a game to see whether more-important players on the opposing team will take the bait and get themselves ejected and/or suspended? (Indeed, it's entirely plausible Horry--normally a gracious, even-tempered player--made exactly this calculation.) As a result of this ruling there will be more dangerous fouls and, in all likelihood, more fights.

So congratulations, NBA Commissioner David Stern (and your stoogelike minion Jackson): You've ruined the playoffs and upped the incentive for on-court violence. That clicking you hear is millions of fans turning off their TV sets.

--Christopher Orr

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