The Rockets – Suns Fracas: Where is the NBA Players’ Union?

Before I start, I’d like to propose a new NBA rule: players are NOT to make ANY contact with any player of an opposing team AFTER a whistle has blown.

If there are players that need separating, there are 3 referees and 4 teammates on each side that can do the job, so there is no need for a player to pose as a “peacemaker” by making contact with or restraining an opposing player. As often as not, that just further provokes things.

On November 12, 2008, at the US Airways Center in Phoenix, Arizona, home of the Suns, the visiting Houston Rockets found themselves in this season’s first NBA brawl. Here is a very clear YouTube video of the incident.

In brief, Houston point guard, Rafer Alston set a screen for Tracy McGrady at the 3 point arc, and Phoenix Suns 6’7″ starting forward, Matt Barnes, gave the 6’2″ Rafer Alston, a hard and cheap shot.

Interestingly, at the time Barnes gave Alston the cheap shot, Alston was having a great game and had the best player efficiency (+17) of any player on both teams, and Barnes was having a bad game and had the lowest player efficiency rating of all players on both teams (-17). The Rockets were beating the Suns in Phoenix, and it appears that frustration was a factor in Barnes’s hard foul.

After Alston regained his balance, he ran at Barns, but was held up momentarily by an illegal moving screen set by Steve Nash. When Alston did get to Barnes, he did not strike him or push him. Alston just put his face into Barnes’s face and they jawed back and forth…

It looked like that was all that was going to happen, teammates were already separating the two when suddenly Steve Nash inexplicably came charging at them, made contact, then flopped to the floor. That DEFINITELY escalated what was just angry words between two players into an all out fracas.

Fortunately for all involved, Ron Artest was on the bench at the time, and stayed put.

The most interesting thing I observed, though, is what the NBA Officials did — or maybe I should say DID NOT do, and this should be a major concern for the NBA Player’s Union.

If you watch the video closely, throughout the whole skirmish, referees James Capers and Tony Brown were in the middle of the fray separating players. However, Referee Greg Willard started to pull Matt Barnes from the fighting, but when Barnes gave referee Willard a shove, Willard backed out of the incident altogether and became a spectator, leaving it to his two coworkers to settle things down 2 on 10.

Speaking of NBA officials doing nothing, here is the REAL problem…

Had the refs called the obvious foul that Barnes gave Alston, the skirmish would not have happened and no one would have been fined or suspended.

Because the foul happened in plain sight on the 3 point arc, and not in the crowded paint, I am assuming the officials saw it and chose not to call it. Besides, the television replays from multiple angles make it clear that you didn’t need a special angle to see the foul.

I’m not saying Barnes didn’t provoke it with his cheap shot because he did. And I’m not saying Alston should have kept his cool, because he should have.

I’m saying that referees have a tremendous amount of power on the floor. They can call things tight and players adjust, or they can allow contact and let tempers rise.

I’ve said this before and I hate that I have to write it again, but I don’t care who you are, everyone has a point at which they can lose their cool. When we put young athletes in the heat of competition, sometimes with a lot on the line in terms of their careers, franchises and fan base, and then fail keep control of the game, we are setting players up to fail.

Unfortunately, there is that chorus of cretins who always complain to officials to “let them play,” but what these dullards can’t comprehend is that fouling isn’t playing, it is a violation of play. It is an attempt to gain an advantage by breaking the rules of the game… in simple terms, fouling is cheating.

I hope that someday all fans will realize that the best way to keep a game from being stopped so often for free throws isn’t to allow contact, it is to be consistent, then teams can once and for all adjust their play and things can flow well.

I have no problem with the fines and suspensions the NBA league office imposed on those involved, but I have a REAL problem that the refs get off scott free for this, because most of the blame is theirs.

If I were Derek Fisher, the head of the NBA Player’s Union, I would be sending tapes and a formal complaint to David Stern, and putting my face in front of cameras to tell the world, “Had NBA officials called that obvious foul, fans would not have been disappointed to see their favorite stars suspended.”

If refs aren’t going to call fouls, why do we even have them? And if the union isn’t going to stand up for its players when they are wronged, why have a union?

Derek may be distracted as he focuses on the Lakers’ goals, but there is no excuse at all for the new head of NBA Officiating, former Army general, Ronald Johnson.

Hey, General Johnson, stop stealing pay checks and do your job!

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