The NBA announced yesterday that Rockets forward Trevor Ariza and guard Gerald Green would each be suspended for two games for their roles in a behind-the-scenes locker room issue at the Staples Center following Houston’s loss to the Los Angeles Clippers earlier this week in which multiple players were ejected.
I describe it as “a locker room issue” because, despite all the hearsay and TMZ-style reporting we’ve had to endure over the last several days, no one, not even the NBA, truly knows exactly what went down. One thing is for certain, however, no one was fighting, nor planning on fighting. And so for what amounts to essentially grown adults having choice words with each other behind closed doors, the NBA severely overreacted with their punishments to two Rockets and underreacted to their lack of action on a Clipper.
Look, anyone who believes these guys had any intention of their man-to-man discussion, no matter how heated, turning into a physical altercation needs a serious reality check.
First, use some common sense. Do you really think Ariza and Green were going to rush the Clippers’ locker room so that they could actually get in a real fist fight with Austin Rivers and/or Blake Griffin? With 11 other Clippers (including several former teammates of Ariza), numerous L.A. coaches and team personnel, along with the team’s entire security group present?
I know Ariza’s nickname is “Switchblade,” but he’s also not about to clean up 20 some guys like he’s starring in an old Kung Fu movie. It’s already been affirmed that Ariza’s teammates Chris Paul and James Harden were present in a peacemaking capacity. And even if, for some reason, your Rockets bias has you believing that’s not the case, three on 20-plus (or four on 20-plus if you want to include Green) isn’t much different than one on 20 plus.
It’s totally ridiculous when you think on it rationally, especially when one of the four is the president of the NBA Players Association and knows all of these guys personally.
In fact, one of the first people willing to put a quote on record (even if it was done anonymously), told ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, “It was classic NBA. None of these guys were going to fight.”
It’s pretty common knowledge that despite a lot of the tough-guy attitudes we often see in the heat of the moment among adrenaline-filled professional athletes, the amount of guys actually willing to engage in fisticuffs are slim to none.
Jeff Van Grundy nailed it on ESPN. “There is not a fighting issue in the #NBA. There is a fake-fighting issue.”— Vic Tafur (@VicTafur) January 17, 2018
So you can deduce pretty easily that, despite this incident being overdone by drama queens on Twitter and covered by some usually pretty credible and level-headed NBA media like it was some cheap Fox reality show, there was not about to be a fight. Then you would have to assume that the next step down from that would be a man-to-man, verbal confrontation.
Have we really fallen that far into safe spaces that we’re now punishing grown adults for conversations not involving violence, had out of the public view, regardless how heated that conversation may be?
I understand that ever since the Malice in the Palace, the NBA has taken a giant leap step away from essentially having the league keep itself in order, and with the Association more popular than ever, the league certainly has a brand to protect. But the fact that this is even really major headline news, let alone has drawn a suspension for two Rockets, shows just how much of an overreaction in the other direction we have taken.
Breaking News: grown men have heated words with one another in private, more coming at your News at 11. It’s silly, really.
Look, if I were Ariza, I’d probably want to have some words with a few Clippers as well. Austin Rivers is a well-known big mouth, consistently accused by many in the league of constantly instigating well beyond what a two-bit role player should be doing. Former Rivers teammate Matt Barnes told Mad Dog Sports Radio in Austin:
“He’s just very arrogant. I know him personally, and at the beginning it took a little bit to get used to and as a teammate you kind of just accept him for who he is and have his back as a teammate, but hearing guys talk around the league and seeing guys that had a problem with him while I was playing with him, I could see why.
He carries himself like he’s a 10-time All-Star, and he’s not that. That kind of arrogance rubs people the wrong way, and if you’re talking trash on top of that, there are some guys in the NBA who aren’t going to have that.”
There have even been reports that Rivers goaded Dirk Nowitzki, one of the NBA’s nicest guys and a player who rarely involves himself in on-court drama, into a series of back-and-forth trash talk with Rivers. Paul Piece has even claimed Dirk came up to him after the game to ask him, “What’s that guy’s deal?”
Secondly, Griffin actually made intentional, physical contact by running into Rockets head coach Mike D’Antoni and giving him an elbow. That the 6’10” Griffin actually targeted Houston’s 66-year-old coach instead of a player when things got testy on the court says a lot about the Clippers forward and also cements his reputation as another instigator.
The idea that Mike D'Antoni, one of the league's most respected and beloved coaches, would yell "F*** YOU!!!" to an opposing player over a minor bump is just beyond ridiculous.— Ben DuBose (@BenDuBose) January 18, 2018
Sometimes, you just have to have that conversation with someone, and good on Ariza for sticking up for his coach. As anyone with any real life experience will tell you, though it’s certainly not an ideal situation, sometimes words, even heated words, between grown adults are simply necessary. Yes, even in the workplace.
Anyone ever work in high-pressure ad sales? How about on Wall Street? In a corporate board room? How about a construction or road crew? You slack off there, someone’s taking you to task. Ever have someone burst into your office, completely heated? Again, it’s not ideal, but it does happen, and is sometimes even very needed to clear the air. It’s also not something people need punished over.
Still in doubt? In the aftermath, we’ve heard from some of the participants. Ariza told the Houston Chronicle:
“The only problem that I have is all the buzz (the media) created. You guys had a lot of different stories about what happened, none of which were true. Everybody is entitled to their own opinion. The people that were there know exactly what happened.”
Rivers has also spoken publicly, and he told ESPN:
“First and foremost, me and Trevor have no problems. He called me. He reached out to me. Trevor and I talked and hashed everything out. He was really cool about being the bigger guy and calling me.”
Rivers then went on to state that “trash talk can get confused with fight talk.”
So I think it’s pretty clear to anyone paying attention that there was not about to be fight. So ultimately, two guys just got suspended for a heated private confrontation that was never going to be any more than verbal. Literally nothing happened.
Meanwhile, the one player who did turn this thing physical — that would be Griffin picking on an actual senior citizen — somehow gets off scot-free.
And for that, we have the NBA universe to blame. When NBA Twitter, basketball fans, and mainstream sports media follow this story like a Hollywood gossip tabloid or some sort of soap opera, then it’s plastered over the front page of every major sports publication for two straight days, and the drama lovers out there slurp it all up like lap dogs, the NBA is almost forced to do something to offset the bad press.
So Ariza and Green will miss two key Houston games against the Minnesota Timberwolves and Golden State Warriors, while the one guy who should be sitting in street clothes will be on the court when the Clippers play the Jazz on Saturday, and we only have ourselves to blame.
Welcome to the modern NBA.