Halftime Sports

Basketbrawls: Fighting in the NBA

March 21, 2014

“I would say I would loosen up a little bit the rules about the fighting fines. That’s what I would loosen up. Because today you go to an ice hockey game, and the one thing they’re waiting for is a fight, you know what I’m saying? So if they could set it up something like that in the NBA. That if there are two guys and they have a problem, if they could just separate everybody.”

— Marcin Gortat in an interview with ESPN

One of the more fascinating parts of hockey is that fighting is completely acceptable. It is so much a part of the culture of the game that fans often look forward to fights during games, and teams often have players who are signed merely to brawl when the time comes. While this can go too far (think Bertuzzi in 2004), where there were serious injuries, it is not something that the majority of fans want removed from the games.

This begs the question—how come when I, and many others, saw Marcin Gortat’s quote, did we instantly dismiss it as ludicrous? Basketball is an emotional, testosterone infused sport and players are often at a point where they come to blows. It may be a mainstream sport, but so is hockey, so why does it seem so ridiculous to allow it?

Of course, the infamous Pacers- Pistons brawl in 2004 has largely scared the NBA away from ever encouraging violence, but hockey has had its scandals as well. As fans, if we were honest with ourselves, could we really say we’d turn the TV off if LeBron James and Kevin Durant were about to actually throw down? If players were told that they had to pull away when the referees came to break up the fight, they would obey—this works in hockey, and there is no real difference between the two sports in terms of physical strength. Now of course there are a variety of legal reasons for why fighting is so heavily restricted in the NBA, but I believe that there is a deeper reason for the league’s stance.

David Stern in the 2000s has succeeded in his quest to rid the NBA of its “thug” image. The days of Allen Iverson wearing sagging pants to press conferences are over—now we see Dwayne Wade and other NBA stars put on a veritable fashion show. I believe that the NBA’s reluctance to allow altercations is largely a function of a fear of a culture returning.

Seeing players fight would change the NBA’s direction towards a kid-friendly environment, especially because, unlike hockey, the NBA has many more casual fans. By even considering Gortat’s point, the administration might feel that they were going to scare off supporters. But I believe that this is untrue, let’s be honest, we as sports fans enjoy violence for the most part. I believe that if you polled fans and players, the results would be that fighting could, in a limited capacity, be a part of the NBA. The larger problem is that the NBA is too concerned about its image.

As the NBA enjoys its constant growth and fan-base, the question becomes, is it becoming too soft? While allowing fighting may seem extreme, recent rule changes have all but eliminated any kind of physical contact between players, and that’s too much. Basketball is a sport that requires intense physical punishment, and the NBA is damaging its product by trying to move towards a culture of absolutely no physical harm. I personally am not so much a fan of allowing fighting as I am the NBA allowing the discussion of it.

We may never see an NBA game where we get to see two players duke it out after a hard foul, but hopefully in the nearby future the league does not remain so ironclad in its desire to not scare fans.

Photo: Keith Allison/Flickr

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