There has been plenty of commentary on the hard fouls dealt to Lebron James in their loss against the Chicago Bulls which halted their 27-game winning streak--let's continue to stir the pot. The euphemisation of these hard fouls has grown nonsensical, and essentially has not been actually thought through carefully. The excuse for them all leads back to the ambivalent phrase: "it's just part of the game." Really? So you're saying we just have to live with it? Instead, let's reframe the concept, just for the sake of robust debate. I would rather call these fouls malicious aggressions. The entire design of the hard foul is to obstruct the player with the advantage from scoring at whatever cost. When all other resources have been exhausted (in this case, actually having sufficient gumption to sit down and play defense) the team must resort to violence, that is, the intentional infliction of an aggression that sufficiently impedes the advantaged player from scoring. Is that not what's going on here, merely in much more provocative terms? Is Lebron wrong when he commented after the game, "Those are not defensive...Those are not basketball plays?"
The day after the game various radio hosts and commentators sought professional and authoritative opinion after they were allowed to sleep on the events of the game. What ensued is a large amount of arguments that make no sense when considered together, as we will do here. Mike and Mike discussed it, one condoning the fouls and the other repudiating them. The bigger Mike tried to proportionately make his voice bigger and win the argument that way, however the more petit Mike made a few great points which could only be agreed upon. The petit Mike said, "He [Lebron] is not officiated the way everyone else in the NBA is officiated. It reminds me of Shaquille O'Neal.?" Big Mike agreed, consequently leading us to our first red flag of the conversation and asking the question: Is it ethically appropriate in the NBA to officiate players differently?
A variation of that question was asked by Colin Cowherd to long-time NBA official Steve Javie. Javie should no doubt be respected as a voice of authority in the officiating community, however his rejoinder to Cowherd basically made no sense as he contradicted himself. Colin asked, "Do you judge fouls against them differently?" To which Javie responded,
"No, I am going to say I don't, and they [other officials] don???t, and here's the reason why. When you have big guys like the two you just mentioned, Colin, if somebody handchecks the guy or somebody bumps them a little bit guys like Lebron can play through it without any consequence to what we call marginal bump, or marginal contact, where a person, maybe of Jeff Van Gundy's size, goes down the lane and gets bumped; he could possibly fall into the crowd per se. So, is there a disadvantage for being big and strong? In that situation obviously there would be, but just think of the advantage you have playing through plays, and just laying it up when nothing's going to stop you."
Javie is saying that the call/no-call depends on the effect inflicted upon the player. A bigger player will be able to repel smaller fouls because of their size, when the same foul might launch a smaller player into the stands. So, in essence, Javie is answering "Yes" to Cowherds question, effectively saying that bigger guys won't get calls that may be fouls against the smaller. He said it himself, "is there a disadvantage for being big and strong? In that situation obviously there would be." He continues his explanation by ostensibly equalizing the disadvantage with an advantage: "[they are able to continue] playing through plays and just laying it up when nothing's going to stop you." However, this explanation merely reveals another disadvantage which big, strong, and overall superior athletes encounter: they don't get the And-1 foul calls, fouls calls that smaller, weaker players will get (even though they will be unable to complete the And-1).
This is mostly disturbing to me because "specimens," as Cowherd referred to Lebron and Shaq, are brought down to the level of play of the weaker, the inferior. These players are seen as too good, so not getting that call shouldn't faze them. The "they'll be alright" attitude. Why can't we let the great players be great instead of trying to equalize them, effectively bringing them down to others' level just to give the appearance that it's more fair, when in reality, the only players getting hosed are the great.
Now, after Lebron was hacked by Taj Gibson he landed awkwardly, yet he was able to regain his balance. We can now take the argument in two directions. The first is that he was able to regain balance which proves that because of his condition as a superb specimen he is able to absorb the hard fouls. Therefore, the inconsistent officiating is justified. Or secondly we may interpret this as proof that a career ending "accident" is only one hard foul away. Lebron was in the air when Gibson fouled him, shall was ask any NFL wide receiver how they feel about getting hit while airborne? Keep in mind that they get to where pads too. When a player gets in the air and is fouled hard, pardon the pun but the result is also up in the air. Jerry Stackhouse committed a flagrant foul against Shaq in Game 4 of the NBA finals. Shaq was also on a fast-break when Stackhouse swooped in and basically launched Shaq out of bound to the baseline. Shaq ended up being fine, but how many times does a player have to be fine before someone actually gets hurt? Have your parents ever told you "it only takes once"? There was residual outrage because Stackhouse had his hand up, so some said he was going for the ball. However, when someone half the size of Shaquille O'Neal is able to jettison him into the stands, the "going for the ball" argument goes out the window.
Unfortunately, professional sports are slaves to cliches such as "it's just part of the game." They are subjects to schadenfreude, because not only sex sells, but violence as well. Hockey could care less about fights--they get fans on their feet. Baseball could do more to curb intentional bean-ball pitches--but "if you hit our guy we hit yours." Great examples for the kids. Let's analyze how much sense this statement by Nazr Mohammed makes, "If I was a teammate of his [Lebron] I would feel for his side of it, but I'm not. I'm an opponent, and as an opponent I think it was just nice hard fouls, hard basketball." Is that the message we want to condone? Before the season goes too much further and the playoffs begin, the NBA needs to decide if they are going to treat all players equally or disparately, consistently or partially.