On Tuesday, the NBA announced that Serge Ibaka's flagrant foul against Blake Griffin on Sunday -- an indefensible shot to the groin while jockeying for rebound position -- would be upgraded to a Flagrant-2, and would draw a fine for the Thunderbolt.* What the announcement didn't include was a suspension for Ibaka ... which drew quite a bit of ire, including from Griffin, Griffin's groin and LeBron James.
* See a recent discussion on what to call players from teams like the Thunder.
LeBron's beef: Dwyane Wade notched a one-game suspension earlier this season for a groin altercation. (Best phrase ever.) So did DeMarcus Cousins. And Ibaka's was no less egregious. I don't mean to be mean, but if you're looking at this and finding innocence, you're kinda crazy.
Certainly, if you make a case that was incidental, you'd make the same case for the Wade and Cousins shots. And certainly, by upgrading the foul and issuing a fine, the NBA's disciplinary arm led by Stu Jackson isn't making a case that contact between Ibaka's hand and Griffin's groin was incidental. The NBA is telling us straight up that after review officials believe it was indeed intentional.
We don't have any official reasons why, but the easy answer as to why a player like Cousins would get suspended while Ibaka would not comes down to reputation. When Cousins got O.J. Mayo, it came after two other Boogie suspensions: one by the team for arguing with his coach, one from the league for barking at Spurs TV analyst Sean Elliott after a game. And Cousins had a relatively short leash with NBA officials due to a mouth that never stops moving.
And Wade? Wade's rep is nothing like that of Cousins. And that's what is so flummoxing about this case. Wade's was a kick to Ramon Sessions' groin; it was obvious and egregious. Just as was Ibaka's punch to Griffin's groin. Neither has a place in the NBA or in life. The scourge of nut shots must end, and suspension is the best deterrence. The NBA knows this: any rule the league cares about is enforced with suspensions. Take the stay-on-the-bench rule that may have cost the Phoenix Suns a title: the league wanted to keep players on the bench out of fracases after Malice, so they made coming onto the court during a fight a suspendable offense. Earlier this season, the precedent for nut shots seemed to be suspension. And now that's gone.
This is not a new complaint, that the league's disciplinary system lacks benchmarks and transparency. It's a remarkable guessing game whenever a major offense (like Metta World Peace's elbow to James Harden's dome) comes up, because we have no idea what Stu will rule. The only real suspension standards are for cumulative technicals, the bench rule and drug offenses. Even DUIs draw differing game counts.
I'm not arguing that previous disciplinary actions shouldn't be taken into account when Jackson hands down punishment. Our justice system relies pretty heavily on escalating discipline, and the practice is plainly a part of the league's drug program. But make it clear! When you suspend Cousins for a game for hitting O.J. Mayo in the crotch, explain that it's not a mandatory one-game suspension for such a violation, but that Cousins' recent altercations merit such a punishment. That way fans, players and everyone else won't get so upset when the next nut-puncher doesn't get punished.
Because when those people get upset, that old tack in the NBA's cushion -- the conspiracy theory -- comes back into play. Ibaka's Thunder were scheduled to play the L.A. Lakers on national TV in the game in which Ibaka would have been suspended. When people don't quite understand why a decision is made, they'll latch on to the first explanation that makes sense and has some support among others. The theory that the league didn't suspend Ibaka to protect ratings on Tuesday immediately got buy-in from players, fans and media.
Of course it's totally absurd: is a lack of Serge Ibaka, awesome as he is, really going to keep anyone away from Thunder-Lakers? "I was totally going to watch that game, but man, no Ibaka? I'm out. What channel is Keeping Up with the Kardashians on?" Give me a break. But because the NBA has a history of inconsistency in discipline and a pervasive belief that cash rules everything, this stuff is said. As illogical as it sounds.
The NBA may never solve that, the image that it's one step up from WWE. But by being more transparent in its disciplinary program it can revoke a lot of that which fuels the conspiracies. They say sunshine is the best disinfectant. That applies to both sides. Be open about the decision-making process and the suspicious will have to dig deeper into the crazy to find something at which to shake their fists. And that's a win for the league.