Do brawl punishments fit the crime?
5-on-5 Roundtable: Discussing fallout from Celtics-Nets sideline scuffle in Boston
The NBA officially dealt out its punishments for Wednesday night's brawl in Boston after a perceived hard foul by Kris Humphries: Rajon Rondo was suspended two games, and Gerald Wallace and Kevin Garnett were fined $35,000 and $25,000, respectively.
Now our panel deals on whether the fallout fits the crimes:
1. Rondo's punishment: Too much, too little or just right?
Henry Abbott, ESPN.com: Too much, by one game. But this isn't about this player, this team or even this play. This is about instigating a fight, and the league's conviction that fans will abandon the league in big numbers if there are bench-clearing brawls. They have made a consistent, long-term business decision to prevent those moments at all costs. It comes off as harsh every time they punish people for the little things that start fights, but as a non-violent dude I love that there are hardly ever any big fights anymore. I can't deny it's working.
Beckley Mason, ESPN.com: Too little. All in all, not much happened here. But Rondo instigated a situation that could have escalated to players tumbling into the stands. The Celtics, and anyone who would have had to watch them play without Rondo, should count their blessings
Danny Nowell, Portland Roundball Soc.: Too little. I'm not clamoring for a public execution here, but you'd sure think this would warrant more than throwing a ball at a ref or jawing with a color commentator after a game. Maybe it's progress, though -- perhaps the league's image has improved so much they no longer see this kind of on-court skirmish as a harbinger of PR doom.
Chris Palmer, ESPN The Magazine: Just right. At first I felt it was too much, because it looked worse than it actually was. But any time an altercation spills over into the stands it looks bad. Plus Rondo just would not back down and kept gunning for Humphries. Rondo has a bit of a rep for mixing it up and there's no doubt the league took that under consideration.
Marc Stein, ESPN.com: Too little. I will continue to argue that location, location, location always matters ... no matter how mild the actual wrestling match was. My sense is that Rondo was let off at two games because the actual pushing and shoving was fairly tame by NBA brawl standards and the fact that no fans were injured. But Rondo is the reason this escalated into any sort of scrap. A scrap that broke the plane of the line separating the court from the stands. So I'd have given Rondo five games. And if all this happened at midcourt -- or farther away from the fans -- I'd be fine with a game or two. Or maybe even none. Which is to say that, yes, I expect potential brawlers to factor in location in the heat of the moment when they decide to charge at someone, just as we all expect players on the bench to remember that they're on the bench during a brawl and stay there no matter how much instinct compels them to join the fray.
2. Wallace's punishment: Too much, too little or just right?
Abbott: Just right. He had to get some punishment -- as soon as there was a scuffle he bee-lined for Kevin Garnett.
Mason: Just right. Watching the video, it's hard to make a case that Wallace enters the fray as a peacemaker. But he also didn't throw any punches and isn't the person who escalates things. In fact, it looks as if he's responding to Garnett getting up and pushing Humphries. This fine seems consistent with other such penalties, like the one John Wall got for going after Zydrunas Ilgauskas two seasons ago.
Nowell: Too little. Again, it's not so much that I care to see a punishment handed down, but find a clip of the altercation and watch how Wallace rushes in. That isn't a peacekeeping mission he's on.
Palmer: Just right. Wallace mixed it up with Garnett pretty thoroughly but didn't take a punch or cause any real damage. The league knows coming to the aid of a teammate is a natural reaction and it's tough to suspend a guy for it if he doesn't throw a punch.
Stein: Too little. Should have received at least one game. On top of the location factor, Wallace charged into the ruckus pretty wildly.
3. Garnett's punishment: Too much, too little or just right?
Abbott: Just right. Although I see why people say he's more bark than bite: He freed himself from the Rondo vs. Humphries shove-a-thon, waited for some aging assistant coaches to "restrain" him, then made a huge show of trying to drag them all back toward the action. Not safe for aging Celtics staffers, certainly, but maybe catered more to the look of the thing than any real evil intent.
Mason: Too little. I wasn't in the scrum like the refs who would have consulted on these events, but Garnett seems just as involved with the escalation of this conflict as Wallace. A fine of $25,000 is the amount they give coaches for kicking basketballs, which seems like less of a danger than players tumbling into the stands.
Nowell: Just right. I'm as sick of Garnett's act as anybody -- first he's a tough guy, then an innocent, then a peacekeeper -- but I just don't see too much to get worked up about from KG in this particular instance.
Palmer: Just right on this one, too. KG pushed and shoved a bit with Wallace and that was that. He didn't start anything, but he was in the middle so he had to get docked a little something.
Stein: Too little. I think you can sense a pattern in my answers. Anyone involved in this thing, on this scorecard, had to receive some sort of suspension because of -- yes -- location. The same goes for the scratched-up Humphries. The best way to remind every player in this league that you cannot even dare to endanger courtside fans is to hit them all on the extreme side. Five games for Rondo, one or two games for the others. Just to reacquaint everyone in the game with the importance of that line.
4. Fair or Foul: Humphries' initial foul on Garnett.
Abbott: Foul. I know this instance didn't look so bad. But try clubbing the airborne guy in your pickup game. Then imagine he's 10 times more airborne. It's even money you'll get popped in the nose after that, because when you're there in real time everybody knows it's dangerous. I think the league should do more to squelch those kinds of plays.
Mason: Fair. Just barely. In the replay Humphries seems to whack Garnett close to the face after the initial foul is called. It's not exactly a clean foul, but it's nothing worth fighting about.
Nowell: Fair. Sure, it's a foul, and sure, there's a slight air of punkness to it. But I wouldn't say it was worth this much commotion. Just a run of the mill, if cheapish, foul.
Palmer: Fair. Humphries' foul was nothing out of the ordinary. That play happens in every game. And I'm not even sure Humphries actually fouled him; it looks as if he put his hands straight up. What made matters worse was that Rondo had a bad angle and all he saw was Garnett slamming to the ground. Rondo clearly overreacted. I'm guessing his reaction was based on what was building all game rather than the actions in the moment.
Stein: Foul. A foul that really wasn't that egregious and shouldn't have prompted such an over-the-top response from Rondo, but you couldn't possibly apply the word fair here.
5. Fair or Foul: How the NBA handles in-game fighting.
Abbott: Fair. Like all rigidly enforced rules, it feels harsh at the moment of enforcement. But in the big picture, this is a league of constant high-adrenaline moments that almost never spill into violence. That's amazing, and quite probably a direct result of the league's long-standing zero tolerance.
Mason: Fair. The fines don't always make a ton of sense to me, but they've done a great job of getting fighting out of the game. With all the contact and shoving that's in the game, it's amazing how rare actual fighting is.
Nowell: Foul. Not because I think anybody here deserves an extreme penalty, but because there doesn't seem to be much consistency in how punishments are meted out. Games for some fights, fines for others, the fact that some behaviors are punished more harshly than actual, physical violence -- it doesn't add up to a coherent policy, and I dislike arbitrary applications of authority.
Palmer: Foul. NBA skirmishes like this rarely happen. Most players, to a man, have no interest in involving themselves in a fracas of any kind. But still the league polices and punishes guys for the slightest altercation as if curbing on-court fighting is some sort of league-wide priority. Things can be combustible but, trust me, guys do not want to fight. That said, I think they got this one right.
Stein: Fairly fair. We guess rampantly about suspension outcomes after every major incident in this league and we second-guess any ruling that the league spits out. That's our divine right as fans, media members and professional second-guessers. The reality is that league officials do deeply review all of these incidents, have steadily managed to curb on-court violence over the years and, more often than not, sell me on their reasoning. They just didn't do so in this case. Not at all.
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