March 7, 2013

NEWCOMB | Role Models: NBA Edition

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While there unfortunately continues to be a lack of college football in my life, and I’m not counting the combine, (side comment: how are these draft prospects just hanging out at the combine? How are you a student?) I’m going to return to the NBA in this column and talk about the lovely Serge Ibaka.While battling for a rebound last Sunday in a game between the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Los Angeles Clippers,  there was a scuffle between Ibaka, who plays for Oklahoma City, and Blake Griffin of the Los Angeles Clippers.While it was not immediately clear what had transpired, after dozens and dozens and dozens of replays on ESPN, a slow-motion video revealed that Ibaka had punched Griffin in the groin. I said punched. That is because he actually, with intention, punched him.Ibaka’s explanation was, “He hit my hands away. He’s strong, so when he grabs you, your jersey or whatever, and you try to defend yourself and rebound. So maybe you can do some move, not to hurt, [but] just to get good position.”And Griffin’s rebuttal: “From what I heard, I guess he’s saying he was just trying to get his hand away from mine. I actually didn’t have his hand. He had my arm, so I don’t know how it’s going to be interpreted.”So, following this little altercation, Ibaka was given a Flagrant Foul-1. A Flagrant Foul is defined as a serious personal foul with either violent contact or clear intention to be aggressive.There are only two categories of Flagrant Fouls: 1 or 2. If a player is given two Flagrant 1’s in a game, that player would be ejected. A Flagrant Foul-2 is more serious, and requires immediate ejection for the player being charged with the foul.Upon further review by the NBA after the game, Ibaka’s foul was upgraded to a Flagrant Foul-2. He should have been ejected from the game, had that call been made in real-time. But he wasn’t. So that makes no difference. He was also fined $25,000 by the NBA.This distinction proved important in the game itself. The foul occurred with only 1:52 remaining in the fourth quarter, and Ibaka would later help contribute to Oklahoma City’s 108-104 victory over the Clippers.The lack of professionalism shown throughout this whole situation is a huge mess.Griffin called out the NBA for not suspending Ibaka because of a game that Oklahoma City had with the Lakers the following night that was going to be on national television with his comment after the game: “It is surprising [he won’t be suspended], but it is a big game tonight and I don’t think they want one of their … I really don’t know. It’s a big game.” Griffin remained vague to avoid his very own suspension. Ironic.Then, to help the situation, Kobe Bryant comes out of nowhere to say that if he had been involved in this incident, he “probably would have smacked [Ibaka] in the mouth.” Classy sentiment, Mr. Bryant.  There’s a lot of less-than-ideal things going on here. First of all, Ibaka clearly pulled his arm back and punched Griffin with intent. It was not an accident, unless people normally make a fist and swing it around when trying to get a rebound. It seems hard to catch a basketball like that, but they are professionals, so who am I to say.Second, he should have been ejected from that game and he should have been suspended. Oklahoma City and the Clippers are only 1.5 games apart in the standings (with Oklahoma City up) and the outcome of that game could have major playoff implications come the end of the season.If Griffin’s accusation is accurate — that the NBA didn’t want one of Oklahoma City’s starters to be suspended for their showdown with the Lakers — then the lack of accountability was carried to a new and disappointing level.I understand that in the heat of the game it might not be clear what happened, but upon further review, the NBA League Office should have suspended him to make up for their mistake. Players have been fined the same amount as Ibaka for merely criticizing the referees after a game, so the fact that there was a punch involved does not seem to coincide with the punishment.And finally, Kobe isn’t helping this situation at all. These three men are professional athletes. Ibaka’s action was completely unwarranted, and he should have been ejected from that game, and/or suspended following the official review. NBA players are meant to serve as role models for younger players, and what was initially an unsportsmanlike play was only further provoked by the comments and response following the game.The fact that this simple play became a top sports headline for the following two days after the incident emphasizes that nothing was handled correctly nor resolved in a manner that could even be close to appropriate.I didn’t know you could punch someone in the middle of an NBA game and get away with it, but I guess for Ibaka, that’s how it is. I guess it’s another situation where it sucks to suck.

Original Author: Annie Newcomb