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Joakim Noah's homophobic slur is obviously one of the NBA's hottest topics, and viewed in the larger context of gay rights efforts and the sports world's lurching progress in that realm, it's disappointing both as an individual act and a sign that prejudice isn't so easily cordoned off.
Noah's reputation as one of the NBA's more thoughtful, open-minded players precedes him, and the unstated subtext of that and his multicultural New York City upbringing is that he's one of the more liberal NBA players. So when f----t comes out of Noah's mouth, it comes as a shock: supposedly enlightened players aren't supposed to be tossing out the same slurs that renowned jerks Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant did. And that should prompt questions about whether the problem of anti-gay language extends beyond just the NBA's jerks.
But ESPN's announcing crew for last night's Game 4 between the Mavericks and Thunder — play-by-play man Mike Breen and color commentators Mark Jackson and Jeff Van Gundy — was so ill-equipped to discuss Noah's slur, they failed to even mention the sort of slur it was more than once, instead criticizing almost everyone but Noah for their role in the incident.
Breen lauds Noah for being "enlightened" and "thoughtful," and mentions that NBA officials think Noah handled the situation very well. Jackson then quibbles with Noah's fine being less than Bryant's for "the same crime"; Breen explains that Bryant's fine is larger because Bryant directed his slur at an official, and finally mentions, about a minute into the discussion, that it was an anti-gay slur.
Then Van Gundy criticizes the NBA for being "ambiguous" in its punishment, and dives further down the fan vs. official rabbit hole, which gives Breen a chance to say that the fan who Noah slurred was heckling Noah with "derogatory statements about his mother," and opine that "I don't think he should be treated the same way," which gives Van Gundy a chance to criticize hecklers.
Oh, and then Jackson brings up the notion that players have been saying things like this for a while, which he uses as a justification for "We, as a league, need to do a better job of protecting players from the fans." Breen takes that bait, and digresses into what teams and fans can do.
But Jackson wasn't done: he criticized ESPN and TNT for looking for the "go-to shot" of a player that might include foul language, and Van Gundy jumped on, lamenting the search for the "gotcha moment." Van Gundy asks: "Why don't we show players when they comport themselves well going back to the bench?"
Breen justifies that practice by noting that the viewer likes to see "the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat." Van Gundy disagrees, shrilly noting "That's not serving the viewer!" Breen holds his ground.
And so a discussion that began with Stuart Scott explaining Joakim Noah being fined for an anti-gay slur finished with a "debate" about whether producers should show frustrated players. In their bizarre digression, ESPN's analysts managed to neglect what could have been a discussion about the prevalence of homophobic language in the NBA and how stunningly easy it is for even a supposed "good guy" to lash out. Instead, they engaged in what felt like farce, and spent their time criticizing fan behavior and wondering if broadcasters should show players who might be angry, with what seemed like more criticism for producers showing Noah's and others' slurs than for the slurs themselves. It was surreal, circuitous, and reflected poorly on all involved.
Meanwhile, a little more than two minutes ticked off the clock in Oklahoma City, and the Thunder and Mavericks traded baskets as OKC nursed a nine-point lead.
Chicago Bulls forward Joakim Noah as fined $50,000 by the NBA for saying, "f--- you, f-----" to a fan during Sunday night's game against the Miami Heat. Many have wondered what Noah did that made his actions less objectionable than Kobe Bryant's when the Los Angeles Lakers star bellowed the same at a referee.
According to CBSSports.com's Matt Moore, it's the target that matters here. Some will conclude that the going rate for being caught using a hate term on a NBA court is now $50,000, as the difference between the two fines was for "discipline for verbal abuse of a game official" according to an email Moore received from a league spokesman.
Note that the league spokesman did not go through line items to produce that $50,000 figure.
The NBA has fined Joakim Noah $50,000 after a television broadcast caught the Chicago Bulls center screaming a homophobic slur at a fan during the Miami Heat's Sunday night win at the American Airlines Arena. Noah apologized after Game 3, saying he shouldn't have said it. But the NBA has little tolerance for homophobic slurs; Los Angeles Lakers superstar Kobe Bryant was fined $100,000 during the regular season for making an identical comment toward an NBA referee during an April game.
Like the Noah incident, Kobe's outburst was captured by the television broadcast.
Where the incidents differ is in the provocation; Kobe was called for a foul, leading to his outburst. Noah was speaking to a Heat fan, following alleged heckling by the fan toward Noah. Reports from the AAA suggest the fan made derogatory comments regarding Noah's mother, a tried and true method of getting under someone's skin.
By fining Noah, the NBA indicated that heckling doesn't make a reponse like the Bull's OK. By fining him less than Kobe was docked, it seems to indicate that the league is willing to judge context. Whether that context is the difference in wealth between extraordinarily wealthy Kobe and rookie-scale Joakim, or it's in the provocation: that's left for us to guess.
Joakim Noah has apologized for shouting a homophobic slur at a Miami Heat fan during Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals between the Chicago Bulls and the Heat. TNT's cameras caught Noah mouthing the phrase "F--- you f--got" to a Heat fan while coming to the bench early in the first quarter. After the game, Noah had this to say, via SB Nation Chicago.
"I apologize," Noah said after the game. "The fan said something to me that I thought was disrespectful, and I got caught up in the moment, and I responded. I said some things that I shouldn't have said. I was frustrated and I didn't mean any disrespect to anybody."
Noah can expect a hefty fine for his actions regardless. Kobe Bryant received a $100,000 fine for using similar language to a referee at the end of the regular season. Precedent suggests that Noah will also be docked $100,000 for his actions.
To see video of the incident, click here.