Ron Artest roped J.J. Barea in the closing seconds of the Los Angeles Lakers' Game 2 loss to the Dallas Mavericks on Wednesday night, getting booted immediately and likely drawing a one-game suspension. Some, in defending Artest, have taken to comparing it to Kevin McHale's infamous clothesline of Kurt Rambis in the 1984 NBA Finals, seen as a seminal moment in "Man Up!" history.
But other than involving arms and necks, they are completely different.
The most basic explanation of why they are different is simply the different eras in which they were undertaken. For better or worse, the NBA changed its fighting and hard foul rules over the years. (Ron Artest is, obviously, a major reason for this.) And while all of the American Don Cherries will surely argue that the rough play in the '80s made the game more enjoyable than it is now, there's a very important reason why hard fouls are no longer as accepted: because fans like to see good players play basketball. Seeing a wicked clothesline go unpunished is not worthy seeing a star player miss a game with a strained neck or a concussion. You could get away with McHale's clothesline because it was 1984 and the NBA didn't care, so long as you weren't crushing someone's face. Now it's 2011, and the NBA would prefer you play in straight. Players know.
But beyond that, simple context explains the difference. Rambis was vying for a breakaway lay-up when McHale clocked him. That happens in the current NBA, too! And it's punished -- if you don't make a play on the ball, you're drawing a flagrant. But Barea wasn't in scoring position, wasn't in a breakaway situation ... wasn't even in his own half of the court. The margin was insurmountable, and Artest wasn't making a play on the ball, at all. Dirty, dirty play that deserves punishment. If you don't punish Ron for that, you open the door for more stupid flagrant fouls by frustrated players. You change the precedent.