Less than three minutes into the Sixers vs. Magic Game 5, Dwight Howard swung a hard right elbow that connected to the back of Sixer center Samuel Dalembert's head. (It was a solid shot. Dalembert put his hands to his head after the play, apparently to try to stop the ringing.)
Howard was called for a technical, but, in apparent defiance of the NBA rulebook, was not ejected.
A photograph could change the entire story. (Anybody else notice that the NBAE-supplied photos available through Getty Images never seem to capture controversial moments like this?) If somebody has captured the moment of impact, it will be tough for the League not to take some kind of action.
But what is the correct action when it certainly appears that Howard -- who essentially won the game for Orlando with 24 points and 24 rebounds -- ought to have watched almost all of this game from his locker?
This is what the rulebook says (my bold):
k. A technical foul, unsportsmanlike act or flagrant foul must be called for a participant to be ejected. A player, coach or trainer may be ejected for:
(1) An elbow foul which makes contact shoulder level or below
(2) Any unsportsmanlike conduct where a technical foul is assessed
(3) A flagrant foul where unnecessary and/or excessive contact occurs
EXCEPTION: Rule 12A--Section V--l(5)
l. A player, coach or trainer must be ejected for:
(1) A punching foul
(2) A fighting foul
(3) An elbow foul which makes contact above shoulder level
I'll be honest. I empathize with the urge to want to keep players on the floor. And in this isolated case, you could argue this was dealt with well enough -- it's not like the situation escalated out of control in the aftermath.
But what's with ignoring the rulebook? If the bigger priority is to give the referees discretion to handle these things as they see fit, then let's put it in writing that the referees have that discretion, rather than so clearly enumerating punishments and then ignoring them.