People don't get kicked in the face very often in the NBA. It's a shame, I know. Even with all the jumping, feet are rarely at face-level, and, since there is no legal reason to kick the ball itself (YET), there's no viable excuse to avoid penalty in such an instance.
You can find photo evidence of several face kicks in recent history and there was, of course, the scary Kevin Love stomp on Luis Scola, but until last night, one face kick clearly reigned supreme. Bruce Bowen marked his NBA career with threes, dogged wing defense, occasional dirty plays, and the crown jewel: a 2002 kick to Wally Szczerbiak's mug that got him a $7,500 fine. It is the quintessential NBA face kick GIF:
No one had even challenged that kick's egregious excellence until Monday night, when Tony Allen did this to Chris Paul:
Allen has succeeded Bowen as the NBA's preeminent wing defender, though his dirtiness quotient needed a boost to ever come close to matching Bowen's. Earning an ejection for face-kicking a superstar could provide such a boost. But whose kick was better? Let us compare.
As a one-time taekwondo green belt and recent student of the Wikipedia page for "Kick", I can tell you that Bowen's kick was a textbook flying front kick. He delivers the kick parallel to his own momentum and strikes Szczerbiak's face with the ball of his foot. Ninja shit.
Allen's kick is closest to a poorly executed roundhouse kick. Though the delivery is accurate-- the shin is an acceptable point of contact-- the lack of follow-through and momentum of the body are technically unsound. Colleague David Roth describes this as a "weaponized jumping jack". Point, Bowen.
Wally Szczerbiak's notorious handsomeness might make him an inviting target, and perhaps this was retribution for his questionable All-Star selection in the same season, but still...it's just Wally Szczerbiak.
Allen's hunting big game with his face kick. Paul is a likely MVP candidate and perhaps the league's best point guard, and he has a bit of a history of playing dirty himself. Point, Allen.
Bowen's kick was inexcusable and possibly intentional. His full-leap closeout wouldn't have made sense even if Szczerbiak squared up to shoot, and he had to know exactly where his foot would land when he raised it unnecessarily.
Allen's leg motion was intentional, but it could maaaaybe be excused as an attempt to deflect an entry pass with the leg, accepting the kicked-ball violation to avoid an open basket. Guys do that all the time. Allen was looking at his target, but he might not have expected the shin-face collision. Point, Bowen.
WAS RASHO NESTEROVIC A WITNESS
Theory: Rasho had it out for Szczerbiak, and went on to join the Spurs out of respect for Bowen.
Rasho Nesterovic was not on the floor for Allen's face kick, since he is no longer in the league. He probably still watches games, but we cannot confirm that he witnessed the face kick. Point, Bowen.
Let's stop right there. Bruce Bowen's face kick is the greatest NBA face kick on record. Even though Allen mushed the puss of a more illustrious target, Bowen scores points for his technique, his utter disregard for appropriate conduct, and for convincing a witness to defect. Bowen remains the dirtiest. Keep at it, Tony.