NBA Talking Points: Because Sometimes, David Stern Just Likes To Screw With Us

In the first edition of NBA Talking Points for the 2010-11 season, we look at the NBA's new technical rules. Plus: Kevin Durant as Gandhi? Michael Jordan as a bitter old man? Ron Artest personifies the NBA? And Fake Scoop on love and marriage.

The NBA is back, and it couldn't come at a better time. Football's been great, but it's a sport that's been ravaged by parity—everyone's equally kinda good—and now, a slew of concussions have made us realize the game's becoming uncomfortably dangerous. Plus, everyone takes football SO seriously.

Basketball's the perfect counterpoint. Sick of the NFL's parity? Welcome to a sport where there are four great teams (Los Angeles, Miami, Orlando, Boston) and everybody else. Sick of feeling guilty thinking about the sacrifices NFL players make? Look at Vince Carter! NBA players aren't exactly killing themselves. And while the NFL's 16 games make each week feel life-changing, the NBA regular season blends into one, blissful charade of highlights, hijinks and Ridiculous Ron Artest Stories.

In fact, if there is one player who epitomizes why I love pro basketball, it's Ron Artest. He's fun to watch, never takes life too seriously and vacillates somewhere between profound and self-parody. He's quite possibly insane, but in the absolute best of ways. He's the NBA.

Doesn't that sound like fun? With that, onto the first NBA Talking Points of the new season!

1. The NBA's New Technical Rule Should End Well. Almost every year, we hear about new "points of emphasis" for NBA officials. Likewise, almost every year, David Stern and the NBA introduce some new, controversial rule designed to stir up debate about the NBA and steal headlines from the NFL and Major League Baseball. It's genius.

And this year, our two annual traditions have dovetailed!

The NBA has instructed referees to be more liberal with their technical foul calls this year, apparently to placate a growing discontent among the NBA's elusive mistress, the fans of Middle Class America. Apparently, the league's research has shown that fans don't like it when players whine about calls. Now, these will get you called for a technical:

• Players making aggressive gestures, such as air punches, anywhere on the court.

• Demonstrative disagreement, such as when a player incredulously raises his hands, or smacks his own arm to demonstrate how he was fouled.

• Running directly at an official to complain about a call.

• Excessive inquiries about a call, even in a civilized tone.

In other words, refs are now encouraged to let 'er rip on technicals no different than they might call a touch foul. It seems to have struck a nerve around the league. As Gerald Wallace told the Charlotte Observer, "I just feel like they've taken a lot of the emotion out of the game.

"Things happen in the heat of the moment," he continued. "I think when something happens in the heat of the moment, that should be taken into consideration, instead of just defining everything by the rule book."

And here's Billy Hunter complaining on behalf of the players union: "The new unilateral rule changes are an unnecessary and unwarranted overreaction on the league’s behalf. We have not seen any increase in the level of ‘complaining’ to the officials, and we believe that players as a whole have demonstrated appropriate behavior toward the officials." It's kind of amazing, really.

Everyone's playing right into Stern's hands. Again. Getting all sanctimonious and rhapsodizing about the soul of the game—ultimately, it's just a bunch of great promotion for basketball.

But do people really think this is going to last past the first month of play? Sure, there have been a lot of quick technicals in the preseason, and it's kind of amazing that Stern would crack down on complaining rather than concentrate of his referee's continued lack of competence, but it's hard to get too upset here. Once it becomes clear that this strategy is insane—because it is—the referees will swallow their whistles.

A month ago, when this news first broke, I listed three possible outcomes:

  1. The NBA refs talk about a new "focus" on different calls each year. These are usually forgotten by December, and we're back to the status quo. Which, in this case, would probably be a good thing.
  2. The NBA will actually enforce this criteria, leading to technical fouls in spades, and a league that's slowly robbed of any of the on-court personality which makes it great.
  3. The NBA actually enforces this criteria, leading to technical fouls in spades, and then David Stern realizes that, in the end, it's probably not a good idea to have every superstar in the league racking up multiple technicals each week. We call this the Cross Traxxion Plan, named for the new basketball that Stern implemented in 2006, only to realize it was a terrible idea, abandoning it two months into the season.

So far, it looks like No. 3 is the most likely outcome. This is what David Stern does. We should be used to it by now. But for the record, if it's No. 2, and this rule really sticks, it's worth mentioning that Stern is jeopardizing the soul of the league. Because remember my Ron Artest analogy?

Artest isn't special because he's a particularly great player, and the NBA's not special because it's a particularly entertaining sport. For hoops addicts, we'll watch anything. But for general sports fans, part of the appeal is the emotions of the game. Larry Brown defended the new technical guidelines by saying, "Baseball they have hats on and you're 1,000 feet away. Football, they have helmets on. Everything we do, kids and parents see it." And that's exactly the point.

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When players are unhappy or frustrated, we see it the same way we do when they're elated. It's why basketball resonates in a unique way. If the NBA wants its players to curtail their emotions, that's fine. But most people won't see it, because if players stop showing emotion, then we're just left with a bunch of redundant regular season basketball. And we'll be watching something else.

(But yeah, David Stern's probably just screwing with us. Again.)

2. Does Adrian Wojnarowski Have A Contract On His Head? I don't like to get in the habit of writing about other writers, but Adrian Wojnarowski is one of the more prominent voices on the NBA landscape, and he has just been KILLING people lately. All summer, he made it his mission to turn the NBA's biggest star (LeBron James) into the embodiment of some NBA apocalypse, and with this technical foul stuff, he applied similar zeal.

It's not a value judgment, because he's one of the best in writers around. But imagine David Stern's reaction to the following three sentences from Woj's latest column on NBA officiating:

1. "David Stern tosses out some vague claim of market research to demand of his players what the commissioner has never demanded of himself: a control of his temper, the grace to react instantly to the incompetence of his officials with a robotic restraint."

2. "It’s a load of garbage, but then again, no one runs a propaganda machine like the NBA."

3. "This is pure politics and posturing, the last stand of a commissioner who refuses to let the beginnings of a historic season breathe."

Again, I'm not judging his reaction. I'm not as worked up, but if anything, you have to admire the fervor here, even if it's misplaced. Has anyone ever publicly told a commissioner to "Go F*** Yourself"? Because I wouldn't rule that out for Woj in 2010. It's exciting stuff.

3. So, So Hollywod. If you removed the name from this TMZ story, there would really only be a few NBA players that could possibly fit the description here. From the lede: "[NBA team] star _________ is being sued for allegedly firing a 'dirt clod' at a paparazzo's face -- and according to the suit, it all went down at Kate Hudson's place. The photog -- not our guy -- claims he and a pack of shutterbugs were 'legally standing on public property' outside of Kate's L.A. home back in 2008 when Kate and _________ arrived."

What NBA player hangs out with Kate Hudson? I mean, really. There are plenty of NBA stars who may hang out with, say, Beyonce. Or Megan Fox. But Kate Hudson? You have to really be embedded in Hollywood to become friends with someone as random as Kate Hudson.

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Of course it was Baron Davis who was hanging out at Kate Hudson's house and fighting off paparazzi on her behalf. I'm not even sure whether he plays basketball anymore, but if you had to name the most "Hollywood" player in the entire league, it's not even close. LeBron and Kobe are too unnatural. Dwyane Wade's too blue collar. Baron Davis, though ... He and Steve Nash continue to lead the league in awesome.

And while everyone showers praise on Nash, we tend to forget about Baron.

That's why I love him. And it's too early to tell whether the Clippers might be for real this year, but I'd like to get on the bandwagon now. Because we can't enough Baron Davis in the spotlight. Regardless of his up-and-down game, he just seems like a genuinely enjoyable dude. So, yeah: On behalf of Kate Hudson, I'm rooting for the Clip Show this year.

4. LOL at MJ. If you missed Michael Jordan's recent comments on Kobe Bryant, they're presented here not for relevance, but just as a reminder. Michael Jordan's the old guy at the gym, determined to detract from a game where he no longer matters:

"I think he is always going to be within the conversations of some of the greatest players who've played by the time he is finished. Where does he rank among those, if you are talking about positions? If you are talking about guards, I would say he has got to be in the top 10."

It's not even worth discussing. Kobe's response was kind of perfect:

"It’s an accurate statement. I’m definitely one of the top 10 guards. It could mean two, it could mean one, it could mean four or five. I’m definitely one of the top thousand. Look, I know how he feels about me."

What's most amazing about this is how comfortable Kobe seems these days. While Jordan appears to stew over perceived slights to his legacy, going out of his way to remind everyone how great he was and how none of the current stars compare, Kobe seems completely at ease with how we see him. It's a side of him we've never really seen before; his entire career, Kobe has been this petulant, wandering soul, chasing invisible ghosts.

Now he says stuff like, "When my career is over, I want them to think of me as an overachiever despite the talent that I have." It's a noble goal, and he's already there. He doesn't need to be remembered as the greatest to ever play the game, just ... He got the most of his talent. And considering his talent, that's saying a lot.

And just like that, the difference between he and Jordan has never been more obvious. Except in this case, for the first time ever, I'm pretty sure the comparison favors Kobe.

(Related: Russ Bengtson's rumination on MJ was great.)

5. Kevin Durant Is Everything We Love About Sports. That's right, everyone's favorite basketball player is on newsstands now, trumping the Heat and Lakers for a spot on the cover of Sports Illustrated's NBA Preview, and cementing his status as the NBA's new favorite son.

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Why are Thabo and Nenad on there with him? According to Chris Tomasson at Fanhouse, he wanted his lesser known teammates to get some national exposure. Of course he did. He's SO perfect.

As Eric Freeman joked on Twitter, "Durant initially wanted to be on the cover of SI with two cancer patients, but the magazine wouldn't let him." Because in case you haven't heard... Kevin Durant is the Greatest Human Being Ever, and he would want to pose with cancer patients. Or maybe wounded veterans. Or teachers. And pelicans that were victimized by the oil spill. And (obviously) the Chilean miners.

Basically what I'm saying is, someone needs to film a "We Are The World" YouTube video starring Kevin Durant where just walks around some random African town saving people's lives, walking old ladies across the street, and kissing babies.

(But seriously, Kevin Durant is Everything We Love About Sports)

(Go read Lee Jenkins' cover story. It was really well done.)

(And just because I'm listening to it now... Michael Jackson's "We Are The World")

6. Gilbert Arenas Is Everything We Hate About Sports. That's according to a number of talking heads that took the opportunity to berate him after he faked an injury to miss a preseason game. And in the wake of that incident, I discussed Gilbert a little bit in my Wizards preview, mostly glossing over him because I'm tired of agonizing over Gilbert. It's time for him to find a new home, and it's something that'd be best for everyone.

But don't get me wrong: I'm still staunchly Team Gilbert, and the fake-injury "scandal" last week was just another in a long line of weird Gilbert stories. If he was still a great player, we'd have applauded him for it. But as soon as he stopped being good on the court, he stopped being beloved in the court of public opinion.

So now, when he pulls a stunt like that, people like Tony Kornheiser take potshots at him. Where were these folks when he was averaging 30-a-game, hitting game winners, and behaving almost exactly the same way? From PTI (via DC Sports Bog)

The new owner, Ted Leonsis, embraces him. He makes Leonsis look like a fool. Like a fool. And he's going to completely undermine the career of John Wall, because he's so needy for attention, and he will say anything, and none of it is ever true. This is an indefensible act. If I'm the coach, I go to the GM [Tuesday] night when I find out, and I say don't fine him, get rid of him, get him out of here.

And this article, from Joey at Straight Bangin, broke it down perfectly. First of all, anyone conflating Arenas' gun incident with his injury incident is over-simplifying things. Second, the venom thrown in Arenas' direction just seems so out of wack:

...tethering a serious gun matter to some largely meaningless decision to skip a preseason game as though they are of a common piece is ludicrous. I understand the inclination to cite both incidents as evidence of subversive behavior and disdain for authority, but only one is a question of public safety and good judgment. The other is a question of team power dynamics.

The criticism has not been fair, though. Reactions from people like Feinstein, Kornheiser, and Bayless have been emotional, animated, and dramatic, consternation suffused with anxiety. It's inappropriate. We are in the realm of sports self-importance, and no one would be upset if Arenas had opted out but then kept the lie to himself. This time, Arenas didn't really do anything wrong, other than exercise his power and then gloat about it. That appears to be the real problem.

Read the entire piece if you get a chance, because it makes some really good points about the power dynamic between athletes and coaches, and the way certain journalists react when someone deviates from that model. In other words, there's a power dynamic between players and coaches, AND journalists and players--if the former gets turned on its head, journalists feel compelled to exploit the latter to correct it. It applies to all sports, but particularly the NBA.

A separate, simpler, and more depressing point: Nobody cared about any of this until he stopped being spectacular on the court, when Gilbert lost his power with journalists the moment he blew out his knee. That's a whole 'nother dynamic, though.

7. You Know Who's Kind Of Like Charles Barkley? Stan Van Gundy.

For some reason, he was asked about Reggie Bush. From Sports Radio Interviews:

"First of all, he was hardly the only one I’m sure that year taking money. It has nothing to do with or doesn’t taint what he did to get the Heisman. I think this whole idea of college kids not being able to get paid in that way, basically people are paying them for their talents and the only travesty in college sports is when kids aren’t there getting an education and nobody cares about them getting an education. I think that’s a far bigger problem than kids getting paid. I just don’t see that as a problem."

SO MUCH REAL TALK.

And answers like that--along with unapologetically looking like a porn star--are why Stan Van Gundy's my favorite coach in the NBA. You can literally ask him about anything, and he'll respond. Whatever the question, Stan's not afraid to give you the real answer.

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8. Finally, An Ode To Stephen Jackson. You may remember that over the summer, Stephen Jackson's home was robbed while he was out of town and his wife was held at gunpoint. Allegedly:

...armed burglars broke into the home of Stephen Jackson while the Bobcats star was in Texas for a basketball camp. The thieves reportedly held his wife at gunpoint before locking her in a bathroom, eventually making off with a collection of valuables. Scary stuff.

A few months later, Jackson's going through a divorce, and now he doubts the incident ever occurred. As he told the Charlotte Observer, "To this day, there's been no proof of anyone breaking in, so my attitude is it didn't happen. Nothing was stolen, no breaking-and-entering. If it did happen, I thank God that she's OK. If not, then I'm ready to put it behind me."

So, so sad. Just a year ago, Captain Jack explained his free throw routine by saying, "I feel like when I go to the free throw line I’m making love to my wife. I concentrate, just stay focused on what I’m doing." And it prompted Fake Scoop to write this Teddy Pendergrass-inspired solliloquoy to the lovers.

"Pull the curtains down," he wrote. "my man Captain Jack is ’bout to shoot some free throws with his woman. He's in Charlotte. But when life gives you lemons, make love under the lemon tree." And after all they've been through, out of nowhere, the love is gone, and the two sides are locked in a bitter divorce. So now what? Time for Fake Scoop to drop some more truth bombs.

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So Captain Jack's woman led a mutiny? Damn. Can't say it's surprising though. No sir. Never that.

It's the oldest wives' tale, y'all. Older than the oldest testament. Because you know that Moses came down from the mountain with the 10 Commandments. They told us that. But why'd he go up there in the first place? Riddle me that, AC Green.

Moses was runnin' from his woman. Sure as tigers have teeth, Elin will knock 'em out your mouth. Women don't play games. Even a broken clock is right two times a day, but the other 23:58? Women are 7:30.

Moses knew. And Captain Jack learned the hardest lesson in the Big Book. She made up a robbery? Oh, Jack got off easy. She could have robbed him. Instead, she just set him free. That's a gift. Merry Christmas, Captain Jack. Pimpin ain't easy, but monogamy is IMPOSSIBLE.

Word to Kellz and Zeppelin... When a Woman's Fed Up, that just means Captain Jack is a Free Bird. No, this bird you cannot change. He'll be travelin' on now. Ohhhhh this bird you cannot change.

You call it divorce, I call it a Stairway to Heaven. Like Moses and the mountaintop? You tell me.

Don't shoot God's messenger, y'all. Uncle Scoop's just preachin' what he practices. It's 2010, y'all. New beginnings, same old game. There's a lot of Haters out there, but that just means people like me and Captain Jack have to go out and make a Whole Lotta Love.

So this season? Ramble On, playas. Ramble On.

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