This week, we will have witnessed four series concluding, pitting two teams against one another in two sports' Championships. In hockey, the Carolina Hurricanes and the Buffalo Sabres are the final two teams in the East, and out West, the Edmonton Oilers defeated the Anaheim Mighty Ducks to reach the Stanley Cup Finals. In basketball, the four Final teams are the Dallas Mavericks and the Phoenix Suns in the West and the Detroit Pistons and the Miami Heat in the East.
Recently, I came across an article describing some trouble with visiting players' and coaches' wives in the stands -- fans of the home team have been pushing, shoving and throwing things at them (as well as the players) and generally making assholes out of themselves.
The sad part is I'm referring to the NBA and not the NHL.
Every time I hear how brutal a sport hockey is I expect to hear someone chime in about how fighting in hockey should be abolished and outlawed. After all, Marty McSorley was convicted of assault after he clocked Donald Brashear; McSorley, by the way, had a stellar record and was an integral part of several teams that won the Stanley Cup. One bad, magnified, foolish mistake later, and he's completely ostracized from the game of hockey in every way, shape and form.
Meanwhile, since Ron Artest clocked a Detroit Pistons fan on the sidelines (after going into the stands to find and hurt whoever threw a cup of beer at him) in November, 2005, not much has changed. There have been several incidents involving players or other team personnel entering the stands. While he was with the Knicks, Antonio Davis went into the stands because he thought his wife was being pushed and otherwise mistreated; and the other night, Mark Cuban (owner of the Dallas Mavericks) and reserve center DJ Mbenga (who was not in uniform) ran into the stands after it appeared the wife of Avery Johnson, the Mavericks coach, was receiving similar treatment by Phoenix fans.
The fallout from the Antonio Davis incident was a significant suspension; the NBA is currently reviewing the incident involving Cuban, Mbenga and Cassandra Johnson. Since none of the participants of the incident were directly involved with the game (ie in uniform) it's unlikely the league will punish any of the participants. However, it's fairly clear that whether or not there is a better or more specific answer to this problem, this type of behavior will not abate.
Personally, I've more or less stopped watching NBA basketball; the game is stilted because there are more foul calls than commercials, and it seems there is hardly any basketball actually being played. Watching athletes like Dr. J and Michael Jordan was special; if Kobe Bryant is MJ's heir apparent, the league is in trouble. Lebron James is a fun player to watch, but he's on a shitty team and clearly the Pistons, who appear to be nearly out of the playoffs themselves, easily managed to shut down the Cavaliers by shutting down James.
What really bothers me about basketball, however, is that these players -- and their fans -- are increasingly thuggish and boorish, and take the game as seriously as do rappers who pay allegiance to the East Coast-West Coast gang mentality and dichotomy. Musicians killing each other because of geography is about as ridiculous as 6"10 guys heading into the stands to find someone heckling them. Granted, if I saw someone messing with my wife, I wouldn't even hesitate getting involved to protect her. But why is the NBA knowingly permitting these types of incidents to happen? If I'm David Stern, commissioner of the NBA, I hire some former football players -- even Ricky Williams, if he smokes his way out of the CFL -- to patrol the sidelines and insure there are no physical altercations in the stands. Also, when/if fans are being unruly (preferably right before they start shoving the wives of players and/or coaches) they should be ejected and tagged as not being welcome in whatever arena their misbehavior occurred. I remember back in the 70's (thanks to videotape) of how hockey players were portrayed (sometimes accurately, sometimes not) as brutal thugs who wanted to hurt others on (and occassionally off) the ice. The Boston Bruins game when a bunch of players went into the stands comes to mind. These days, however, it amazes me how few of these incidents, if any, we hear about in connection with the NHL. Perhaps it's the notion of sportsmanship and respect for the game that continues unabated in hockey. If you don't believe me, when was the last time two teams gathered at the end of a baseball game or a football game or a basketball game to shake hands? It happens every time a playoff series concludes in the NHL -- without exception. And more often than not, players who bashed the shit out of each other during the best-of-7 contest shake hands and wish each other luck and mutter to themselves about the next time they'll meet. But there's a respect there that, seemingly, is missing from basketball. The incident where Raja Bell clotheslined and tackled Kobe Bryant aside, there is an increasing amount of disrespect in the NBA, and the more I hear and read and see, the less I want to watch it on TV, not to mention actually go to an actual game.
I'm not sure why the NBA lets this happen, but that near-riot in Detroit in 2005 aside, I'm waiting for the day that a fan attending an Oakland Raiders football game (in Oakland) feels safer than sitting courtside at an NBA game. Unfortunately or otherwise, it might not actually be as far off as one would think.
What bothers me more is what it says about us as a culture. The Romans had gladiators and christians and lions, and we have ginormous athletes, beer-soaked fans and a teleprompter.
Welcome to the wide, wide world of sports.