Kobe Bryant and Joakim Noah both recently were caught using a homophobic slur that starts with the letter “F,” yet their fines were very different. Kobe, who directed his shot at a referee, was fined $100,000, while Noah’s use of the term was directed at a “fan,” which only drew a $50,000 fine from the league. Let’s take a look at the difference, and whether or not it was the correct move.
First of all, I doubt there will ever be a consensus in this argument, as everyone seems to have a different opinion. But quite simply, Kobe was fined more because he berated an official, while Noah simply violated the league’s conduct policy. And while the obvious insensitivity by the use of the “F” word implicates both players, it’s possible they could be fined for getting caught on camera dropping any number of different curse words, including ones that are not offensive to a minority group. We have to remember there are people within earshot, many times kids, who have to sit through these situations, and the league has no rules in place for one set of penalties against bigotry, and another against simply dropping an old school “F Bomb.” There is “overall conduct” and “conduct toward officials.” If you don’t like the rules, take it up with David Stern. But the way they’re written, I think the two fines were appropriate to the rules.
And when you add in the fact that $100,000 means less to Kobe, at least as a percentage, than $50,000 means to Noah, it makes even more sense. The real question I have is, why don’t the rules dictate a bigger fine for racism/bigotry, as well as what specifically makes attacking a referee more taboo than lighting a fan up? Are referees more valuable than fans?
Unfortunately, the truth of the matter is that every situation is different and I like the fact the NBA has left some leeway in the rules in order to be able to make a judgment call when necessary. Now, regardless of what the “fan” in Miami said to Noah, there was no reason for Noah to come back at him the way he did. But if you listen to Taj Gibson, that “fan” was on him from the get-go and said some very personal things. In other words, he provoked Noah into a confrontation, which was likely his goal from the outset. In fact, the so-called “fan” is probably upset he didn’t bait Noah into a punch, so he could actually reap something from Noah’s loss.
On the other hand, Kobe wasn’t really provoked by the official, at least in the same sense as Noah was by the fan. The officials and players have to work together, and there are specific rules written about a player’s interaction with the officials. Once it crosses the line, the penalties will be handed out. And just because a fan buys a front-row ticket, it doesn’t give him the green light to be a “jackass,” as Ken Berger of CBS so eloquently put it on Twitter Monday afternoon.
I fully expected the two fines to be different (despite them both using the same forbidden word) and like the fact that the league can use its judgment on interaction with fans. What I’m hoping is that these recent fines don’t result in cameras being taken off benches, as well as players when they’re upset with a fan, or a call. Each case is different. And do I think that Noah, or anyone else, should drop an insenstive term directed at an official or a fan? No. But NBA players are human beings, and can only be pushed so far before retaliation ensues. Obviously, a term like “assclown” or “asshat” works much better in these situations, but unfortunately, a lot of NBA players are going to use words that the rest of the world doesn’t approve of. So the league will be left to decide the fines when these situations arise. And I can live with that. The bottom line is that Kobe and Noah should not have been suspended for their insensitivity, based on the current rules. Maybe that will change in the future, but for now, the league has dealt with these two situations as it saw fit. And I have no problem with that.