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Respecting the League: Love's Botched Suspension

In a two part series, Adam and Aaron are going to examine two aspects of Kevin Love's 2-game suspension following the inglorious footwork he employed against Houston Rockets forward Luis Scola last Saturday. For today's half, we'll examine the hypocrisy of the NBA's incessant emphasis on "respect for the game" when a player mouths off to the refs that becomes curiously absent when the livelihood of a player comes to call.

When the NBA assesses technical fouls, how often does it cite "respect of the game?" Remember all of Dwight Howard's technicals last year? When asked to explain the one game suspension Dwight received for angrily chucking the ball at the refs, all we could hear echoing from the office of the Commissioner was “respect." Me, personally, I never really understood what agreeing with every call the refs make has to do with respecting the game. The refs are the authority, but even the best authority makes mistakes. The NBA's response to players trying to express their unhappiness in an emotionally charged moment is basically akin to the “Say what again!” scene in Pulp Fiction.

Nobody can forget the epic Sheed techs for virtually nothing, everyone's seen the infamous Duncan technicals, and we’ve all seen an aggravated Dwight have to leave the game early because he’s had it with the zebras. And I don’t think a single person among us knew what this all had to do with respect. And now the NBA has lost another part of it’s credibility, demonstrating how respect for another player has nothing to do with their particular definition of "respect." Personally? I'm a bit disgusted.

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Kevin Love has been suspended for 2 games for what I would describe as one of two things. Either an outrageously bush league stomp on Luis Scola’s face, or — if Love’s “accidental” version is the case — a careless, dangerous play that should be seeded out of this league for the same reason calling foul on a ref warrants a technical, in Stern's eyes. Respecting the league. Respecting the other player’s career, respecting his health, and respecting his life. Love did not just push his leg off of Scola gently, he kicked back with a lot of strength, causing Scola’s head to fall back, hit the court, and bounce. He also made big time contact with his chest, as though the face stomp wasn't enough. Scola may not have been hurt, and as he played 36 minutes that night (many after the offending incident), he probably wasn't. But this could’ve been a concussion, a broken nose, a broken jaw, if Scola’s not lucky even a broken rib. All because of one careless play.

I’d like to believe Kevin Love didn’t do it on purpose, I really would. He’s a nice guy who doesn’t bear much resemblance to the bush league virtuoso I initially wanted to compare him to -- Andrew Bynum -- in terms of how he plays in a general sense, or how reckless he is on the court. And yet, that play seemed everything but unintentional. Love must’ve known Scola was under him. I mean, you feel things like that, it’s not hard to notice that there’s a 6’9” guy lying on the floor under you. And then, when you first make contact with his body, in this case his head, why would you follow through with your step after looking down? Why would you strengthen it? Why not just take the fall forward, a la ninja Blake Griffin and James Posey. I just don’t see any excuse for Love to do what he has done, and yet his suspension is 2 games. Robin Lopez got 1 game for brushing with an official earlier this season, and given he was also ejected from the game where the incident occured, I’d say that he served just as much time as Love will. Now, why the hell would a little brush be worth as much as a stomp?

Perhaps what I’m getting at here is that the NBA needs a reformed thinking about penalizing players. A little brush, a few spur-of-the-moment shouts don’t hurt anyone. Stomping on someones face does. I don’t care if it was intentional, and to an extent neither should be the NBA. A reckless move is sometimes as bad as an intentional move, and if you enable players to get away with bad plays just because they look unintentional, this league is going in the wrong direction.

Perhaps, the NBA should take inspiration from a league ran by David Stern’s former protege, Gary Bettman. The NHL has realized that reckless plays are as bad as intentional plays, and launched a new platform to explain to the players and fans the cause for suspension through a video narrated by NHL Vice-President (and former player) Brendan Shanahan, or his deputy (and former player) Rob Blake. Personally, I’d like to know how the Love suspension wasn’t worth 3 games. Yes, I know it’s a one game difference, but the NBA should draw a line, a bare minimum on someone’s carelessness, to be upgraded in case of evident malice.

Times like these are the times when this league shows it’s inexplicably bad judgement, protecting its officials from the most minor and meaningless wrongdoings by the players, all the while not protecting the players from their peers. I can't think of the last time a hockey player was suspended for insulting an official, and believe me, they yap a lot. And they’re not nice about it either. What I did see, however, were players suspended for reckless play early in the season. The suspensions were harsh, unforgiving and well explained. And guess what? There hasn’t been a suspension in 2 weeks now in the NHL. Perhaps it’s time for basketball to realize what their real treasure is. Not the refs, not the people who don’t want to hear “shit” uttered on their TV screen, but players. It's players who make this game great. And it's players who aren’t protected adequately from the recklessness of their peers.

At the end of the day, respecting the game is respecting your opponent, not the official. The NBA should take note.

Adam Koscielak
Adam studies law in Poland, which is odd considering he considers himself Canadian. Writes everything that comes off the top of his head, including but not limited to rants, appraisals and love letters to Steve Nash and Marcin Gortat.

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