An article I wrote for BYU's The Daily Universe last year about some suspensions given out during the NBA playoffs was nominated for an award for college newspapers. The Universe staff made the nominations. I found out about this nomination about three months ago, but I assume I didn't win because I haven't heard anything else about it.
Keep reading to see what I wrote. The story was also linked (along with a bunch of other things I wrote) in this post.
Many people at BYU have conflicting feelings when it comes to "the letter of the law" vs. "the spirit of the law." The sports media has been no different lately, shoving this very topic down our throats in recent days.
The reason? The suspensions handed out by the NBA after a hard foul by the San Antonio Spurs' Robert Horry.
Near the end of game 4 of the Spurs-Suns series, Horry hip-checked Phoenix Suns star Steve Nash into the scorer's table on the sideline. A minor melee ensued and, in the process, Suns players Amare Stoudemire and Boris Diaw left the bench area to either check on their teammate or to participate in a brawl. No sooner did they set foot on the court than one of their coaches pulled them back to the bench.
The coach was aware of an NBA rule that states that any player leaving "the immediate vicinity of their bench" receives a mandatory one-game suspension. The players are also aware of this rule and should be able to exercise enough judgment to avoid hurting their team by forcing the NBA's hand and suspending the players.
As you probably know, Horry was ejected from the game when the foul occurred and was later suspended for two games. Stoudemire and Diaw were suspended for game 5. According to the league rules, the suspensions were justified.
Now what you are reading was written by someone who has openly rooted for the Spurs. However, this is not the point.
If the NBA failed to suspend the players, all you-know-what would break lose. Pundits, reporters and fans alike would rip the league for not sticking to its guns and enforcing the rule that has been strictly upheld for more than a decade.
Granted, nobody wanted to see it play out this way. Teams want to be at full strength against their opponents. The opponents also want the other team to be at full strength so they feel they are beating the best that team has to offer. It's hard to get motivated for a shorthanded opponent.
Not only do both teams "lose" in this situation; the fans also lose. They want to see the best players on the court.
The only suggestion I could make would be for the league to slightly amend the rule, making it possible for some interpretation. As it now stands, the rule is hard and fast, and the league's figurative hands are tied. There really isn't much decision making in the process, just the application of a rule. If league officials meet this off-season, they can alter the rule so that players who do not escalate an altercation situation may go without suspension.
Yes, the Suns were the team hurt more by the suspensions. And yes, a Spurs player, Horry, was most at fault for the incident. But this is not unprecedented. You basketball diehards may remember in 1997 when the Heat's P.J. Brown body-slammed the Knicks' Charlie Ward. Several key Knicks players were suspended for leaving the bench. The Heat ended up coming back from a 3-1 deficit to win the series and advance to the Eastern Conference Finals.
So while the suspensions may not have been fair -- much less palatable to the average NBA fan -- they had to take place.
Maybe some rule bending will take care of this problem before next year's playoffs start.
UPDATE: This year NBA team owners had the option to discuss league rule changes; the owners, in effect, decided to uphold the rule requiring a one-game suspension for any player who leaves the vicinity of the bench during an altercation (as reported here).