The NBA has always shielded its star players, a very well known fact. These players clearly receive preferential treatment, as is often noted by commentators, writers and analysts alike. That certain players have earned specific rights and omissions from rules of the game by officials, whereas others have not yet reached that level of respect, is part of professional basketball.
So on that note, if Dwight Howard’s suspension in the First Round is an indication that this time honoured tradition of shielding superstars no matter what might be changing, then maybe Kobe Bryant and Derek Fisher should pay the full effects of their actions in last night’s Lakers game against the Houston Rockets.
Derek Fisher took a run to deliver a body check to Luis Scola, knocking the Houston Forward to the ground, that had such a long lead up to it it would have been a charging penalty in hockey. And Kobe Bryant delivered an elbow to a highly disputed region (above the shoulders? below them?) on Ron Artest while jockeying for position – a play where Artest was actually the one called for the foul. Nothing says equal bearings like being penalized for receiving an elbow yourself from a superstar player.
Fisher was assessed a Flagrant 2 Foul so he was ejected from the game and now faces a possible suspension for the following game as well. Kobe was not penalized at all and Artest was ejected from the game for arguing the play. I'm sure Artest won’t receive any further punishment since replays show he was actually in the right to argue the missed elbow call. The entire game was quite vocal and physical too but there’s a point where a line has to be drawn, regardless of who committed the offence superstar or not, to maintain a level of sanity in the game. Howard faced the music, might it be time Fisher and Bryant did as well?
The loss of Fisher would be a significant blow to the Lakers team in itself, however combine that with Kobe and the NBA is pretty much handing the win in this closely fought series already over to the Houston Rockets. But that may very well be what should happen with regards to the Melee in LA (patent pending) last night, regardless the impact on the series itself.
A few decades back this type of rough play was a lot more common across the Assocation however they did not have the technology, with countless replays coming from every possible angle, and heavy scrutiny of each and every call that today’s game employs. So for this reason this foul has been examined and re-examined relentlessly. The game was more raw years back but recently the level of play has been clamped down on a lot more in the NBA - even if pick-up is still just as rough, a concerned effort has been present in the pro ranks.
Suddenly reverting back to the physical play of that lost time period is not the easiest of things to do. Sure this level of physicality certainly adds a tremendous element to the games themselves, similar to how fighting in hockey attracts viewers. A promise of punches, elbows, shoving and heated exchanges on an almost nightly basis has to be a draw for sports fans and so far this postseason the games have rarely disappointed in this respect. However the NBA, trying to keep control over its game, has to be careful in the decisions they make right now. What message would they like to send about their game? And not only to the teams competing in these playoffs but also to the young players growing up with dreams of going pro as well.
Kobe Bryant should at very least receive a retroactive Flagrant 1 Foul for his elbow to Ron Artest. In response to letting Rajon Rondo off the hook without a Flagrant the NBA said there was no wind up to the foul; with Kobe there appears to have been such a delivery. A good signal to send to keep order might be suspending Bryant a game; dealing with the public relation repercussions might be a nuisance however it would tell every player that no one is exempt. Howard's a star and he was caught, so it wouldn't be totally unprecedented to punish Kobe.
Something has to be signaled anyways, the NBA has to let us know what path it wants to take the rough or the regimented. Both can work but it's time to come to that decision and make it known which way the game will be taken, especially considering the way this postseason has gone thus far.
Kobe Bryant-Ron Artest, Derek Fisher fouls being reviewed by the NBA (ESPN)
The Kobe Bryant Suspension Watch (True Hoop)