The James vs. Stewart and Jokić vs. Morris situations evolved into a broader discussion on the NBA’s suspension policy. For a while now, Adam Silver’s been labeled as soft and very lenient towards players. The overall sentiment is that the suspensions everyone involved in those two incidents received were not strict enough. Zach Lowe was most direct about it and made a parallel to an example from no-so-recent history.
Isaiah Stewart got 2 games for escalating the situation, LeBron and Jokić both got 1 game for their punch and shove, and Markieff Morris was fined $50k for his part in starting the Jokić situation with the foul. A total of three games and $50k, or as David Stern would call it – peanuts.
I gave up on…I don’t know what it would take. Remember when Andrew Bynum took JJ Barea out of the air with a forearm? I believe Bynum was suspended for the first five games of next season. I think under Adam Silver you might have to actually stab someone with a weapon to get suspended for 5 games.Zach Lowe, The Lowe Post
Lowe acknowledged that the Morris twins have a reputation, and that reputation resulted in a lot of people on social media not feeling any compassion for Morris. Even more so, a lot of our fans actually supported Jokić and said someone finally stood up to a Morris twin. But the fact remains that was a violent shove from the back that obviously reaggravated previous injuries to the neck and back because Morris is still out since the incident.
“To get suspended one game for that? I was like, they’re just not going to discipline players at all anymore.”Zach Lowe, The Lowe Post
Other people argued to Lowe that Morris turning his back to Jokić after a dirty shot like that is “a cheap tactic in it of itself, because it sends the message of ‘Well you can’t retaliate against me, I turned my back. If you do it’s a cheap shot by definition.'” Even if you agree with that statement, what Jokić did cross the line, and he deserved his suspension. But, that comment and the ones our social media was full points to a deeper issue.
A physical game
Basketball is an inherently physical sport. The NBA worked hard to remove a lot of the physicality from the game, believing it would prevent slugfests we regularly saw in the 60s, 70s, and the 80s, and which culminated with the Malice in the Palace. While fistfights have no place on the court, a certain level of physicality is unavoidable, and trying to legislate it out of the game will always have unintended consequences.
I’m convinced LeBron wasn’t trying to hit Stewart in the face, and every professional and amateur player I know told me the move James did is standard procedure when someone is as physical as Stewart was while fighting for position after a free throw. But he did, unfortunately, connect with his face, and Stewart had every right to get mad. (The reaction 3-4 minutes after the hit happened was too much)
For every 1.000 or 10.000 successful battles for position, there will be a case when things escalate because something like the LeBron and Stewart situation happens. Should we try and legislate battling for position more? Hell no! Fine the guys and move on. If you try to legislate the normal, acceptable part of the game to prevent the extremely rare situations when they escalate, you’ll get nowhere.
As a consequence of that, we don’t have enforcers anymore. Guys who know one of their roles is to establish a natural order of things, within the rules, of course, and clean up the dirty acts. What Morris did to Jokić was dirty and potentially dangerous – particularly the lower body contact. But we don’t have an Oakley to get someone like Morris on the next play and take a foul for it. So what happens? The Morris twins get away with it time and time again, and then someone like Jokić snaps. So you get to a place where fans and league execs are defending Jokić, who violently shoved a guy and injured him – “What else was he left to do?”
The changes made this year that allowed defenses to actually play defense will help. Basketball needs balance to reach its peak. But the league has to stop legislating the little things and being lenient on the big things. That’s just upside down.