While much has been made of the NBA’s crackdown on “respect for the game,” with the league’s whistle-blowing onslaught of technical fouls, the sought-after upgrade in decorum is actually more about respect for referees.
But what exactly is respect for the game? Is it sideshow antics during games that seemingly make players bigger than their teams, and add insult to beaten-down opponents? It is muting such attempts with physical fouls in Oakley old-school style?
Saturday night’s Heat game against the Nets offered a perfect example on both counts, and plenty of reflection in these ensuing days.
At one point, free and clear for a breakaway dunk, Dwyane Wade instead flipped the ball over the rim for a LeBron James dunk. The two then went airborne for a full-body bump at midcourt during the ensuing New Jersey timeout.
Shortly thereafter, Nets swingman Terrence Williams rode James out of bounds with a shoulder block that was ruled a Flagrant 1 foul.
In the wake of that incident, there was plenty of back and forth, about the very subject of “respect for the game.”
To James, the respect was giving fans what they paid to see.
To Williams, it was about refusing to be anybody’s punchline.
Monday, the NBA said there would be no further action against Williams, no upgrade to a Flagrant 2 for the non-basketball play, no fine, no suspension.
Shortly before that league announcement, James grew brusque with a reporter who had asked at Heat practice about Saturday’s “circus” plays, with James also feeding Wade behind the back for an earlier dunk.
“We’re just an athletic team, just making plays,” James said. “There’s nothing circus about it. Everyone wants to put a ‘Showtime’ or ‘showboating’ on us. Nah, we just made plays. It’s not circus.”
Of course, everything about this Heat season is a circus. And we probably heard Terrence Williams’ name more this weekend that we heard it his entire rookie season.
But it is interesting that at a time when David Stern is stressing “respect for the game,” no one seems to know where that line falls, unless it comes to an askew glance at a referee.
Of course, it could be worse. At least Stern’s players aren’t spitting at each other.