This is ridiculous.
Not suspending Karl Malone for Game 3 for his elbow to Darrick Martin's noggin gives aid and comfort to every Looney Tunes wing-nut conspiracy theorist who thinks it's preordained that the Forum Blue and Gold will be the West's representative in the Finals. No fewer than two coaches and three personnel guys at the Detroit-Indiana series had the same reaction within seconds of hearing that the league was only fining Malone $7,500: You know who they want in the Finals.
How can I counter that argument?
Believe me, I want to.
I know how hard the refs work, and when they do make mistakes, it's because they're human beings, not because they have a Nassau on the road team. I know the commish always points out that fixing games is a felony that would subject a lawyer such as himself to disbarment. But how on earth can Malone skate when the Kings' Anthony Peeler did the exact same thing to Kevin Garnett eight days ago, and (rightly) was deactivated for two games -- including the decisive Game 7 of the Minnesota-Sacramento series? I don't think Malone should have gotten two games, but he had to get one.
Look, I love Karl Malone. He's one of the great players of all time and he's on the short list of the most decent people to have graced a court. He has almost always been generous with his time to most reporters. (He wouldn't talk before games sometimes, but if you waited him out after a game, you got really good stuff.)
But what he did Sunday was vicious and unnecessary, with the game having long since been decided. It certainly looked like Malone was trying to either send a message for Game 3 or finish what had become a chippy fourth quarter for both teams. Maybe I'm wrong, but I don't recall Martin instigating anything, and even if he did, he's a 6-foot, 190-pound guard.
I would not feel so strongly about this if the league A) hadn't been so adamant over the years about condemning any contact above the shoulder, whether it came from a punch or an elbow. The league's various chieftans of discipline have all said the same thing: windup, contact and follow-through are a flagrant foul, subject to suspension. And even if there's some question about whether to suspend a guy, this brings me to B).
The league always says that patterns of behavior are taken into account when disciplining players; i.e., if you do something once, you get disciplined X. You do something twice, you get disciplined X-plus. And so on. This escalating scale certainly seemed to be in place (correctly) with Dennis Rodman and Dikembe Mutombo. How many times over the years have we seen The Mailman hit somebody in the head? Isiah Thomas, Steve Nash, Brian Grant and David Robinson come to mind. Every time, Malone is utterly unrepentant, and that's his right. But the league shouldn't condone that kind of behavior.
I'm sure if I called Stu Jackson, he'd give me a rational, detailed reason why Malone gets to be introduced by my man Lawrence Tanter at Staples on Tuesday in the starting lineup. But this time, I don't buy it.
In this case, I'll believe my lying eyes.
David Aldridge, who covers the NBA for ESPN, is a regular contributor to ESPN.com. David will take your questions in his weekly chat on Thursday. Send him a question here! Also, click here to send a question for possible use on ESPNEWS.