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We have zillions of security plans for the Palace, for all kinds of things. But none included a player going up in the stands
February 29, 2012 12:27 PM   Subscribe

An oral history of one of the NBA's most infamous moments - The Malice in The Palace
posted by thecjm (37 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite

 
Great article, I was just about to post this. The best video I could find. Another contender for scariest moment in nba history: The Punch.
posted by Manjusri at 12:41 PM on February 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


Here's the full video of the incident.
Read this earlier today. It was really illuminating, and it really did negatively affect the careers of the Pacers as well as the franchise itself.
posted by wikipedia brown boy detective at 12:42 PM on February 29, 2012


As a casual/indifferent fan, I came away from that liking Ron Artest (MWP) a lot more. His crazy decision to lay down on the scorer's table was apparently a gesture of conciliation, he was trying to cool out the situation by faking a nap. Unfortunately being in that place, at that moment, with tension that high -- he broke the wall between the fans and the floor and that was a huge mistake. Afterwards he was very contrite, and one of his first acts after winning the championship with the Lakers was to apologize to Indy fans.

Loved the Indianapolis police captain who got shit for the quality of the investigation. How many guys did I assign? ONE. In this city, I'm supposed to use my resources on a misdemeanor spat between billionaires?

To many great moments in this story to list. Very good read.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 12:43 PM on February 29, 2012 [3 favorites]


Oops, DETROIT police captain.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 12:43 PM on February 29, 2012


"the most infamous night in NBA history" is a little much, but maybe not.

We have zillions of security plans for the Palace, for all kinds of things. But none included a player going up in the stands

Amazing how much failure of imagination you see every day.

Here's a good SI article on that night from a few weeks after The Ugliest Game

The Grantland article seems to gloss over the high level of racial tension that has always existed between white fans and black athletes at the Palace.
posted by mrgrimm at 12:45 PM on February 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


Shouldn't this have a World Peace tag? ;)
posted by Manjusri at 12:46 PM on February 29, 2012 [3 favorites]


I wish I could find a clip of this. At a postgame press conference - not sure if it was immediately afterward or sometime during the next few days - Larry Brown was talking. At some point someone said or asked him something and he laughed and said something like, "Oh, this fight would have been a nightly occurrence in the ABA."

I'm a basketball fan, although neither of those teams are "my teams." I was surprised at how it blew up into what seemed like this huge national deal.
posted by peep at 12:53 PM on February 29, 2012


I agree with stupidsexyflanders. Well, I wouldn't say I came away liking the player formerly known as Artest, but this incident has always been one of those examples of the (over)reaction of others (in this case, the sports media) making me sympathetic to a side t I normally wouldn't be in the circumstance (Artest after this incident)
posted by MCMikeNamara at 12:53 PM on February 29, 2012


Read this cover-to-cover this morning. Great work by Abrams to assemble this piece.

Interesting how this highlights the difference in physicality between the world-class athletes on the court and the hapless non-player personnel trying to break up the fight. More than one person talks about trying to restrain a player and realizing they had zero chance in actually stopping them. When you watch ten NBA players on the court on television -- with no non-NBA players in the frame for reference -- it's easy to forget how incredible these guys are physically, and how intimidating that can be in a fight situation.
posted by workingdankoch at 12:54 PM on February 29, 2012


I particularly like the hyperlinked footnotes on the right margin. I'm going to have to steal that at some point.
posted by zamboni at 1:24 PM on February 29, 2012


Read this at lunch today. Most interesting part to me was the revelation that one of the fans that went onto the floor to fight the players was later banned from attending games for threatening a completely different player on a different team, with the implication that the fan was baiting players to hit him for settlement money.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 1:24 PM on February 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


I came away from this event really disliking Ron Artest, not just for the way he escalated the incident but for his seemingly indifferent behavior following the event: Appearing more concerned with the recording of his hip-hop album than with self-reflection, demanding a trade after having received so much support from his Pacers colleagues, many of whom paid a heavy price for their support of Artest only to get a virtual FU in return.

Then he was signed by the Lakers (my hometown team) and helped them win the NBA title in 2010 and all was forgiven.

Now that he's been stinking up the court for most of the current season my feelings are more conflicted.
posted by The Gooch at 1:30 PM on February 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


Most interesting part to me was the revelation that one of the fans that went onto the floor to fight the players was later banned from attending games for threatening a completely different player on a different team, with the implication that the fan was baiting players to hit him for settlement money.

He was baiting Yao Ming into hitting him for the settlement money? In terms of targets for an aggressive liability campaign, Yao seems like the guy in the NBA least likely to take a swing at you.

Of course, I suppose it's tautological to try to prove that this guy is a knucklehead.
posted by workingdankoch at 1:34 PM on February 29, 2012


What the stats say about World Peace.
posted by Manjusri at 1:38 PM on February 29, 2012


one of the few times i was actually watching live sports on tv.
posted by Avenger50 at 1:44 PM on February 29, 2012


You know, I will read an oral history of damn near anything. Hands down my favorite way to structure a story.
posted by padraigin at 2:41 PM on February 29, 2012 [4 favorites]


This is a great piece - I love getting the different angles of the story, with the author acting more as an editor. There are so many stories that surround this incident, it's really tough to put all of them in perspective.

What struck me the most was how hurt Jermaine O'Neal was that Ron requested a trade soon after being reinstated by the league. These guys all stuck up for Ron during this entire ordeal, they gear up to make another run, then he walks out on them. I barely thought of this until two years ago, when Ron thanked and apologized to the his ex-Pacer teammates and the executives (after winning a championship with the Lakers).

That team really had a great shot at winning multiple championships (they won 75 percent of their games the year before), but after the fight and Reggie's retirement, they were a bit rudderless.
posted by antonymous at 3:11 PM on February 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


Interesting how this highlights the difference in physicality between the world-class athletes on the court and the hapless non-player personnel trying to break up the fight.

I didn't see this live, but when I saw the replay, I was thinking, "I hope nobody comes out of this like Kermit Washington and Rudy Tomjanovich..."
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 3:14 PM on February 29, 2012


I had actually quite loved Ron Artest since he was drafted by the Bulls. He's always been a bit unhinged, and recently has been talking openly about mental health and the importance of getting help, which in itself is a pretty rare thing for an athlete. There are all sorts of apocryphal tales about him with the Bulls. When he was drafted, the team was lousy, and lost a lot. Supposedly at halftime of a game the team was losing badly, the players didn't seem all that bothered, which lead to Artest picking up a basketball and launching chest passes off of the walls directly above different players' heads, all the while without saying a word. Evidently this continued for a while, with no one saying anything, just sitting in stunned silence.

The man has had to overcome a lot of things in his life. He's a hell of a lot more interesting than most modern athletes, too.

And as a Pistons fan, that year, the Pacers were a serious threat, and could well have beaten the Pistons in the playoffs. Instead, in one night, the Pacers were pretty much knocked out of realistic contention until just about now. They blew up the team, and went with a draft strategy meant to bring back their mostly white midwestern fan base, drafting lots of white guys with strong 'character' or signing people from Indiana (their current point guard) and staying away from anyone even sort of 'dangerous' (or, you know, black).
posted by Ghidorah at 3:31 PM on February 29, 2012


One thing I hadn't heard before was that Mark Boyle, the radio play-by-play announcer for the Pacers was pretty seriously hurt:

Boyle: Instinctively or reflexively, I did step up and Ronnie trampled right over me. I fractured five vertebrae. The thing I laugh about now is my wife says to me, "If you could have stopped Ronnie from going into the stands, none of this would have happened." I say, "Well, Jesus, if I could have stopped Ron from going into the stands, I would be playing in the NFL."
posted by Manjusri at 3:35 PM on February 29, 2012


I came away from this event really disliking Ron Artest

I'm a Pistons fan, so it didn't take much, but yeah, his responses and actions through the whole thing were completely atrocious.

Interesting how this highlights the difference in physicality between the world-class athletes on the court and the hapless non-player personnel trying to break up the fight.

Heh. Yeah, the comment from Mark Boyle is pretty funny:

The thing I laugh about now is my wife says to me, "If you could have stopped Ronnie from going into the stands, none of this would have happened." I say, "Well, Jesus, if I could have stopped Ron from going into the stands, I would be playing in the NFL." My partner, Slick Leonard, was smarter than me — he moved out of the line of fire.

As a Pistons fan, I gotta say I'm awfully proud of both Rick Mahorn and the unfairly maligned Rasheed Wallace.

Afterwards he [Artest] was very contrite

here's Ron Artest after:

"When we got in the locker room, Ron said this: "Man, I didn't know we had this many real n----- on our team."

Idiot. I can't believe anyone could like him *more* after that night. I dunno.

more Artest:

"I still don't believe I should have lost that much money. I would still like to have a million or something back. I ain't the one who started it and I lost almost $7 million in investments and a couple of commercials and I didn't even start it."

Contrition? Claiming "I ain't the one who started it" is completely juvenile and par for the course. Regardless of whether or not he "started it" he did a hell of a lot to instigate it.

Having said that, the punishments all around were far too harsh, and I wish they weren't because it forced me to be sympathetic to the Pacers.
posted by mrgrimm at 3:49 PM on February 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


They blew up the team, and went with a draft strategy meant to bring back their mostly white midwestern fan base, drafting lots of white guys with strong 'character' or signing people from Indiana (their current point guard) and staying away from anyone even sort of 'dangerous' (or, you know, black).

Believe me, that's another reason I love Ron Artest. He completely destroyed that very competent Pacer organization. Fuck Larry Bird.
posted by mrgrimm at 3:51 PM on February 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


Any chance of finding a better quality video than that? It looks like it was encoded in 1994 using a prototype version of the Real player codec and transferred to us from a web server with a loose ethernet cable (yes I know that's not how digital works, but seriously that video is only marginally better than listening to a recording of a radio broadcast).
posted by chimaera at 4:35 PM on February 29, 2012


I've been searching for an HD version. HD broadcasts must not have been as common back then? Any HD video will probably be from Fox Sports Detroit/Indiana or the NBA.
posted by wikipedia brown boy detective at 4:47 PM on February 29, 2012


Not even an HD version would be necessary, just one that was encoded at a higher quality.
posted by chimaera at 4:50 PM on February 29, 2012


While searching I kept seeing comments that the nba pulls it every time it shows up on youtube. I'm not sure why that wouldn't apply to google video.
posted by Manjusri at 5:19 PM on February 29, 2012


They blew up the team, and went with a draft strategy meant to bring back their mostly white midwestern fan base, drafting lots of white guys with strong 'character' or signing people from Indiana (their current point guard) and staying away from anyone even sort of 'dangerous' (or, you know, black).

Not sure if you actually follow the Pacers, but this is kind of inaccurate; and, your racial criticism borderline insulting. You're right that the Pacers (and Larry Bird, who has been building to this current team for three years now) have strived to build a team around "character" players, and they definitely have. This is what every team in the NBA -- and professional sports in general -- tries to do. It's one of the surer ways to build a winning team. Through trades, FA acquisitions, and the draft, Bird has added dudes who are known to be hard workers, amenable to coaching and playing a team-oriented game (witness this year's focus on "Smash Mouth Basketball," which deëphasizes scoring stats and prioritizes rebounding and defense, which takes a certain type of player, usually a "character" guy), and are willing to be ambassadors to the Indianapolis community.

That last one, community involvement, had always been important in Indy. You saw it with Reggie, you saw it with Jermaine, you saw it with Peyton-- if the players go out of their way to connect with the town at large, the town will love them. Once that Miller-O'Neal-Artest team was broken up, those interim teams weren't very cohesive, and there wasn't much of a connection with the community.

So, yeah, it's actually really important (and really refreshing) that Bird brought in George Hill, who is from Indiana and is really excited to play in his home state. And someone who was a fan favorite in San Antonio (and their estimable coach, Gregg Popovich, who said he and Hill had something verging on a father/son relationship because Pop respected him so much, and vice versa). And someone now juggling charitable activities in both Indianapolis and San Antonio. Of course, the Pacers are now working hard to acquire Indiana native Eric Gordon partly due to his Hoosier roots and how much that can matter. George Hill is definitely a character guy. And he's black.

Bird's big FA signing this off-season was David West, a former all-star and by all accounts a fantastic teammate. His numbers are way down this year, but everyone agrees that his leadership skills -- keeping teammates in line and focused, being a positive role model for the younger players to look up to -- are the main reason Bird brought him in. That, and the dude is built like a Merkava Mark IV tank, and gives us much-needed muscle inside. And he's not dangerous. And he's black!

The Pacers' up-and-coming star is Paul George, who the rest of the league hadn't really noticed until the hard-fought 1st Round playoff games against Chicago last year. George, a rookie, did a really admirable job slowing down the un-slowdownable Derrick Rose. He's a defensive savant, and now we're starting to see his offensive potential this year. He's mild-mannered, doesn't showboat after his insane dunks, and constantly sacrifices his body on the court. He's black.

Last year, Bird brought in our now-starting point guard, Darren Collison, who'd backed up Chris Paul the year before. He's young, quick, and has done a great job ball-hawking on defense and keeping his assist/turnover ratio down while playing within the new system under coach Frank Vogul. Also black!

The starting center, Roy Hibbert, just played in his first all-star game last weekend. He was frail as fuck when the Pacers drafted him and considered him a project (following an unsuccessful big-man project, David Harrison). Bird and management, despite the slow development, stuck by him. Of all the current players, Roy has probably been the most public community face of the Pacers. Area 55 at Conseco Fieldhouse (now Banker's Life, ugh) is alway going bonkers. People in Indy love him. He's black.

And our top scorer and kind of the de facto "star" of the team, Danny Granger, was drafted by the Pacers maybe five or six years ago. He had the thankless job of being the "leader" of really shitty Pacers teams for maybe three years. No complaints, no grumbles. Black, too.

That's the Pacers' top six. All character guys, all black. It should be mentioned that at the end of the Pacer bench sits Lance Stephenson, who has a pretty strong reputation to be decidedly lacking in character, and that was a big issue when Bird drafted him. And, like clockwork, this happened before Stephenson could even step on the court, and then this happened last season when the Pacers took a nose-dive in the middle of the season. By all measures, Lance is the type of player Bird has worked hard to ship off. It also happens that Lance "Born Ready" Stephenson was one of the best high school ballers in NYC history and Bird sees him as easily the most talented player on the roster right now. But the dude is at the end of the bench until he matures into a "character guy," which we might be in the process of seeing now. He's black, too.

So yeah, it's really grating to read people blithely assume that A) a predominantly white Pacers fan-base somehow needs white players to connect with, even when, from Billy Keller to Reggie Miller to Jermaine O'Neal to Granger/George/Hibbert now, have been black; B) bringing in native Hoosiers is a bad thing for some reason; and, most importantly, C) that Bird/management equates "character" with race and acquires accordingly. Nothing could be further from the truth. The only white players who play a significant part of the rotation -- Foster and Hansbrough -- are rebounder/defenders/"character guys" and fit perfectly into Vogul's system, and fit in well with the rest of the team.

Basically, I think fans (or me, at least) enjoy having our city represented by good dudes who can win games. And that's exactly what we've got now. Apologies for the Pacers exegesis-- it's just that this is the first team since that Palace Brawl team that I've been really excited about. And I totally came in here to talk about how wonderful the oral history was, etc.!)
posted by NolanRyanHatesMatches at 5:37 PM on February 29, 2012 [16 favorites]


You know, this is why I like Grantland and why I contributed to the Kickstarter funding of The Classical. I love, love, love pieces like this.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 5:58 PM on February 29, 2012


The SportsCenter / ESNP analysts reactions are notable, too. With their love of quick cuts and heavily-digested video recaps, it's almost surreal to see such a solid chunk of uninterrupted video presented like that on SportsCenter. It also highlights just how shocking the whole mess was as it happened / immediately afterward. I'm happy Abrams devoted some space to locker-room arrest threats and general atmosphere of danger.

And, from the actual game feed, watching John Saunders, who, as a black hockey player, must've dealt with a metric shitton of fan hostility, reacting so emphatically and unscripted afterward was amazing to see. Big ups to Abrams for having the presence of mind to include Tim Legler, one of the co-hosts that night and a former player, in his piece, if just to frame their immediate reaction. Because, uh, Saunders sounds more pissed than I can ever remember a sportscaster sounding.
posted by NolanRyanHatesMatches at 7:16 PM on February 29, 2012


NolanRyanHatesMatches, I'm sorry to have offended you. What I see of the Pacers, and have seen since the brawl, is essentially an Eastern Conference version of what Portland did to try to shed the Jailblazers stigma. To me, drafting or trading or signing for 'character' is itself a coded word for teams (in any sport) trying to avoid upsetting their fan base, essentially trying to find the most non-offensive players possible. The Bulls* do it too, and it pisses me off, since it led to years of 'scrappy, over-achieving' teams that were hampered because they didn't have the raw talent to compete. On the other hand, they had 'hard working' 'scrappy' 'team-first' players, which, honestly, are the sports version of dog whistles. Teams drafting/trading/signing for character are essentially saying 'we don't want players that might upset our fanbase, and to be blunt, a lot of times, the teams are essentially saying we don't want players that are too black, which is all sorts of racist bullshit in itself.

Can you honestly say that the Pacers would actually, if it would make the team more competitive, make a trade that would give them someone like, say, a Rasheed Wallace? Josh Smith? DeMarcus Cousins? Zach Randolph? On the other hand, would there even be a question if they could add someone like Steve Nash, Grant Hill, or Ray Allen? With the Linsanity issue, more than one writer (and player, for that matter) has asked if there would be such media attention paid to Lin if he was black. Is the same crap, if a different facet, of the questions that surround every black quarterback. To ignore that it's a factor in sports seems, to me, to be nearly impossible. Possible one of the worst writers in this regard is Easterbrook at ESPN, who consistently throws out all sorts of coded language. Drew Magary at Deadspin this year devoted a chunk of each of his weekly football columns to calling Easterbrook out over it (if you can get over his excessively juvenile schtick, he's got a lot of great points).

*Listening to people talk about Derek Rose and his character is another branch of this. I can't count how many people I've heard talk about how good of a person Derek Rose is. I love the guy, and I'm glad he's on my team, but I wish people would stop using his quiet personality as a way to attack other players, like Lebron, or Carmelo (who have plenty of other things they should be disliked for).
posted by Ghidorah at 7:49 PM on February 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


No worries, Ghidorah, no real offense taken.

Ugh, I just don't think teams/management really see "character guys" as coded as you do. Well-built teams consider the value of character and veteran experience, and I think they realize that a winning basketball team is the A+ way to fill the arenas. So, essentially, if the player is great but has a reputation for toxicity, that's gonna get factored in to the decision. There's just such a long, rich history of black NBA players not only as "character guys" but also as the most beloved; I don't think front offices are worried about dog-whistling: teams like my Pacers and your Bulls actually are"scrappy, over-achieving" teams; what's more, both teams are predominantly black, which I think kind of turns the dog-whistling on its head.

Can you honestly say that the Pacers would actually, if it would make the team more competitive, make a trade that would give them someone like, say, a Rasheed Wallace? Josh Smith? DeMarcus Cousins? Zach Randolph?

No way to all of them, unless the team felt that the Pacers' vets could turn them around. That's the thing-- all those players are off-the-charts talented but there's a good chance that they won't make the team more competitive. But, that's if you buy into "character guys" really mattering. Hey, Z-Bo is a Hoosier, don't forget! I think a lot of people in Indy would be happy in a Prodigal-Son type of way, not to mention the other fun stuff Randolph can provide.

On the other hand, would there even be a question if they could add someone like Steve Nash, Grant Hill, or Ray Allen?

Uh YES YES YES YES YES GIMME. Even with their diminished skills (aside from Nash, who is still playing high-caliber basketball; Ray Allen is, too, to a lesser extent), just having vets like them on your team pays massive dividends, as long as you don't expect them to be the team's first option.

And I don't know, I fucking looooooove Derrick Rose and his on-court demeanor. He's used as a foil for players like those because he comes with zero negative static. Character!
posted by NolanRyanHatesMatches at 8:59 PM on February 29, 2012


Jermaine O'Neal: I had my own personal security guard that traveled with us. He was side-by-side protecting me...I'm trying to get across the scorer's table to get over there to help, and my security guy is holding me down.

Wait. What?

This dude had his own personal security guard? Who traveled with him to all games? And was apparently close enough to the floor to restrain O'Neal when chaos broke out?

Is this a thing in the NBA? Is it typical for players to have a personal security guard? Because that strikes me as totally weird.
posted by mcmile at 9:30 PM on February 29, 2012


See, where you see character, I see people I know (family, co-workers) who won't even give the NBA a chance because of whatever socially acceptable way they use to say, essentially, that it's too black. For me, I thought the clip of Rose during the introduction at the all star game was funny because that's Rose, and he's not comfortable being in that situation (as he's said and shown many times). On the other hand, other people use that (especially with the part where Lebron's face pops into the frame, where he's laughing and dancing) as a way to lob all sorts of incredibly negative shit onto sport mostly played by black people.

I'm not, in any way, denying that Nash or Hill would help a team. What I am saying is that a lot of the words used to characterize someone like Hill are also, by exclusion, being used to highlight what other players (Smith, Wallace, Rondo, JR Smith, Baron Davis, and more) are not, which is to say, not threatening to the middle and upper class white people who buy tickets to NBA games, and who are the main targets of the league's sponsors. As one of the players mentioned, it's a pretty easy line to draw from the fight in Detroit to the institution of a dress code that, at the time it was introduced, was essentially telling a large majority of players that their style of dress was unacceptable. Why? Because it was unacceptable to the sponsors, to the consumers.

Free Darko had a pretty amazing, and ongoing discussion about the racial implications of the Larry Brown Pistons and the "right way" hagiography about their style of play and his coaching. The 'zero negative static' that you mention about Derrick Rose, what would negative static be? Some of the things you said:

He's mild-mannered, doesn't showboat after his insane dunks

No complaints, no grumbles


are some of the exact same things people say to me, who in the next breath, condemn Lebron* for showboating, or being too exhuberant, or who will throw out the thug label (yes, it's still there, years after gangsta rap pretty much went away) to point out undesirable black behavior. Paul Pierce grumbles. He complains. And I'd love to have him in his prime on my team. Sam Cassell showboated after sinking threes, and he was a key player on several great teams. Joakim Noah complains, showboats, and yells all the time, and I love him for it. In the right setting (not, evidently, Milwaukee) Stephen Jackson can be the heart and soul of a team, or, evidently, as Tim Duncan said, the ultimate teammate. It's a game, not an office.

I'm not, in any way, trying to accuse you of racism. I'm just trying to point out that there are a lot of people who would never use a racial epithet that somehow feel free to unload on the NBA, and they feel safe doing so because there's such an extensive coded vocabulary for them to do so.

*Don't get me wrong, I loathe Lebron. However, I loathe him for entirely different reasons than the fact that he enjoys playing a game and getting paid to do so.
posted by Ghidorah at 10:35 PM on February 29, 2012 [3 favorites]


Yeah, the "character" thing and all the baggage definitely exists. Some of it is racial/classism.

You hear about pro athletes (mostly African-American) getting arrested "all the time" but guess what? Arrest rates in the NBA and NFL simply reflect those of our society as a whole. Because we fucking love putting people in jail in this country, especially poor people and black people. It just comes as a shock to middle-to-upper class fans who don't usually get a window into that part of society, or are in denial about it.

And then there's "fundamentals" - another popular code word. It has a lot to do with the cult of NCAA (college) basketball- where legendary (almost always white) coaches have absolute power over and are given disproportionate credit for "developing" players, who are essentially unpaid indentured servants.

You'll STILL here people say ridiculous things about how players "should have stayed in school" - even after a whole generation of all-time greats- Kobe, Garnett, LeBron, etc" played zero games in college.

The actual truth is that college basketball is amateur basketball. The practice time is very limited by rules and players have competing demands to go to class too. In short: it's amateur. When Europeans starting showing up in the NBA and playing great right off the bat, there was a lot of talk about "fundamentals." The simple truth: those guys start playing professionally, in a league, for money, against grown-ups at 14 or 15.

You become great at something by doing it professionally, for real. That's just how real life works. "Character" is a huge red herring. Yes every NBA player is amazingly physically gifted, so mental preparation is huge in separating the ok from the good and great. But being mentally up to the challenge of being a great player is not the same as not listening to hip-hop, or not having tattoos or whatever. Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant are both known to be not particularly nice people. Like most prodigies in any field, they give their life to succeed, thinking of almost nothing else. That doesn't always make for a nice human being or fit into some 1950s boyscout definition of "character," but that's the real world.
posted by drjimmy11 at 11:30 PM on February 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


See, where you see character, I see people I know (family, co-workers) who won't even give the NBA a chance because of whatever socially acceptable way they use to say, essentially, that it's too black.

There's no denying that some people carry that baggage w/r/t the NBA; but, that shouldn't discount what most players/coaches/management/fans recognize as a very important player attribute.

For me, I thought the clip of Rose during the introduction at the all star game was funny because that's Rose, and he's not comfortable being in that situation (as he's said and shown many times).

Which was awesome! And you're right, that was definitely a Rose moment-- he's an Act Like You've Been There guy, and not the kind of player who will be dancing during intros. Those guys are invaluable to have on your team, too, and it doesn't hurt that he's an All-World player. Heh, and a player who is so competitive that he probably blows an internal gasket every time someone says Chris Paul is the best PG in the league. As an opposing team's fan, Rose scares the shit out of me because he's so focused and can match his own mental tenacity with his physical skill of driving to the basket. Plus, the Bulls have a great "fun" guy in Joakim Noah-- excitable, demonstrative, great dirty-work guy, and someone who doesn't distract from the team.

On the other hand, other people use that (especially with the part where Lebron's face pops into the frame, where he's laughing and dancing) as a way to lob all sorts of incredibly negative shit onto sport mostly played by black people.

Which really is unfair since it was the All Star Game and that's when it's fine for players to wile out a bit and just have fun. To be fair, I think most of the reportage/fan reaction to that little scene had far more to do with Rose being such a locked-in player that, when he's on the court, can't really snap out of it. Which is what you want! I don't think many people made much of an issue of those other guys dancing around. I mean, LeBron is under such a crazy microscope that it's tough to extrapolate what people have to say about him -> the rest of the league. People see him dancing and think, well, the dude can't lock in enough, and that's why he's had such well-publicized problems in real pressure situations. Which is unfair, but has less to do w/ LeBron's race and more to do w/ the fact that he's basically the undisputed most talented player on Earth yet hasn't translated that into a ring.

... other players (Smith, Wallace, Rondo, JR Smith, Baron Davis, and more) are not, which is to say, not threatening to the middle and upper class white people who buy tickets to NBA games, and who are the main targets of the league's sponsors.

I don't know, I think you're making the same big logical jump and missing a massive step. It's not that those players are threatening to middle-class white fans, would hurt sponsorship, and that's why management doesn't want them on teams. I think it's much more that management wouldn't want them because they (I wouldn't put Rondo in that group, btw) can change the locker-room / on-court team demeanor in a negative way, which translates to losses, which translates to fewer butts in the seats at the arena. It just seems like you're equating "dangerous" with "known to be a team cancer" in a really weird and baseless way.

The 'zero negative static' that you mention about Derrick Rose, what would negative static be?

It'd be that Rose is never a negative distraction to the team / never has issues with effort / is someone who leads his team and people fall into line. "Negative static" is players dogging it during games; causing problems in the locker-room; worrying about stat-padding; having off-the-court problems that distract them/the team; not buying into the coach's system; playing hard in contract years and then having their effort level dip off; and lots of other things. I mean, there is not a team in the NBA (or a fan base) who wouldn't kill to have Rose or someone like him on their side. There's no chance in hell the Bulls would ever trade him because they recognize how valuable he is, and his demeanor is a big part of that.

... are some of the exact same things people say to me, who in the next breath, condemn Lebron* for showboating, or being too exhuberant, or who will throw out the thug label (yes, it's still there, years after gangsta rap pretty much went away) to point out undesirable black behavior.

Again, people might throw those things out there, and probably always will, but I just don't think that's the majority opinion. It was waaaaaaaaaay less to do with his race and muuuuuuuuuch more to do with The Decision, basically colluding w/ Wade and Bosh to be on a super team, and then the fan Schadenfreude of the Heat not winning a title last year. Again, the fact that LeBron is on his own level yet has shrunk in the highest-pressure situations is damning to a lot of fans. I think that's a bit unfair to LeBron, since it ignores all the pressure situations where he's completely dominated; but, I think that's the actual atmosphere surrounding him, not that people see him as a thug or too exuberant a player.

Paul Pierce grumbles. He complains. And I'd love to have him in his prime on my team. Sam Cassell showboated after sinking threes, and he was a key player on several great teams. Joakim Noah complains, showboats, and yells all the time, and I love him for it. In the right setting (not, evidently, Milwaukee) Stephen Jackson can be the heart and soul of a team, or, evidently, as Tim Duncan said, the ultimate teammate. It's a game, not an office.

Heh, cover your ears and eyes, because I'm about to bring up another term that clowns at Free Darko/Deadspin/etc. would roll over laughing at, but teams/GMs take very seriously: chemistry! You're right that those players, but first I'd take Pierce off that list-- none of those Top 4 Celtics players have bad character reps; in fact, quite the opposite, esp. w/ Pierce, who, like Granger in Indy, played hard on years' worth of middling Celtics teams and management brought strong players to build around him. If your team chemistry is strong enough, you can risk having those types of players on your team. Like with the Pacers, Lance Stephenson shouldn't be on that team; but, management thinks that, with the right guys surrounding him, he can finally mature. Sam Cassell? The dude was on a team with Hakeem, Clyde, Terry Porter, and a ton of vets. Joakim Noah? Like I said, absolutely no one doubts his effort level, and his invaluable w/r/t getting the crowd pumped at the right moments. On a team with bad chemistry (and a team that isn't winning), I'm not sure if Noah would be that demonstrative, because there's nothing to feed off of. If you're not winning, you can't have much swagger. Opposing teams/fans hate Noah for the same reason they hate a player like Hansbrough-- just super gritty, chippy, someone who has a special talent of getting underneath opposition's skin, which is something you want for your team. Stephen Jackson? Well, he'll definitely go to war with you. Except when you have bad team chemistry and you're not winning. Then you the Stephen Jackson who was shipping out of Golden State. And Indiana. And present-day Milwaukee. If he's a minor piece to a team's puzzle, go for it; but, if you have to depend on him, no dice. Look it up for yourself-- those Spurs teams were filled with "character guys," so they could absorb him pretty well-- witness Mike Brown saying at the time that Jackson was the most talented player on the team but just wasn't mature enough to depend on.

So yeah, it kind of is an office, which is why, if you want to have a Stephen Jackson on your team, you'd better have a Tim Duncan and a David fucking Robinson on your team, too.

This isn't to say that fans/media don't use "chemistry," "character," "scrappy," "fundamental," etc. as coded; but, since these are relatively intangible attributes, I think it gives lazy sportswriters, bloggers, and fans an easy thing to tee-off on. Which is sad, because that means those writers/bloggers/fans are missing out on one of the most interesting aspects of team sports, basketball in particular.

These aren't red herrings. They actually exist, and teams that take them into account are the teams that win.
posted by NolanRyanHatesMatches at 7:42 AM on March 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


Blaha: Bill Laimbeer and I were broadcasting the game down by the Pistons bench. Everything happened on the other end of press row. And the reason I wasn't particularly shook up about it is because Bill Laimbeer didn't seem to be particularly bothered by it. He was kind of nonplussed by the whole thing.

Well it's not that surprising, considering his endorsement of Bill Laimbeer Combat Basketball, and his reputation. Guessing Laimbeer was just sizing up anyone who might approach him.

But wow, what an immensely bad situation. It's especially jarring to read about after a 15-year hiatus from watching basketball/being a fan. basically since the Phil Jackson/ThreePeat days. I've been drawn back into it, and am amazed by Rose's calm demeanor; that he's captaining such a young, relatively chilled out team. Perhaps being a Bulls fan has made me naive to the darker aspects of NBA ball, and I was definitely tuned out when this incident happened, and whatever fallout ensued.
posted by obscurator at 7:43 AM on March 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


Perhaps being a Bulls fan has made me naive to the darker aspects of NBA ball

It doesn't get much darker than Michael Jordan. Dude is pretty much evil.
posted by mrgrimm at 2:58 PM on March 2, 2012


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