Amir Johnson does not have a reputation as a hot head, nor does he have a history of getting in trouble, yelling at people or, indeed, throwing mouthpieces at referees.
But he does have a history of fondling the NBA basketball between free throws.
He is not alone in this. Serge Ibaka is on that list. Carlos Boozer. Lots of NBA players enjoy the dead ball in their live hands.
Which is pretty harmless, most nights -- except Monday, when one thing led to another and Johnson ended up in a tug-of-war with a referee, followed by being ejected, then restrained, and then chucking his mouth guard at the official. It was quite a show. Over ... what?
“It’s out of character, my teammates know me, fans know me if they’ve been watching my career, I never lose my cool,” said Johnson. “I never say anything to the ref or get mad, the only techs I ever got were for hanging on the rim or slapping the backboard.
“Before every free throw, I always go rub the ball and give it right back to the ref. The ref didn’t let me have the ball and we kind of got into a tug of war. No words were really said and from then on he ejected me out of the game and I kind of lost my cool from there.”
Initial thought: What's the big deal? Let the man rub that Spalding.
But it strikes me that it is a stated goal of the NBA, and of HoopIdea, to speed games up. Between all the free throws, timeouts, halftime, video reviews ... There is a lot of standing around. And it's tough to cut a lot of those things. Halftime is probably necessary. Free throws are unpleasant. Maybe there's a way to replace them, but for now their mission is obvious. Timeouts could be shorter, but there does seem to be an occasional need for a coach to holler at his players, or at least confer with his assistant coaches at the free throw line -- not to mention that's when the league pays the bills with TV commercials.
There are a lot of things the NBA could theoretically do to speed up the game. But almost none of them are easy.
Except this one.
The game can go on without everyone having to rub the ball every few minutes. I'm not sure how much time that would save, but that's time we'd rather be watching actual basketball, right?
UPDATE: How much time might this save?