I guess we all are. We've all seen Ron Artest bolt off that table even more than we've seen Flutie roll to his right. But the fallout from L'Affaire Auburn Hills is enormous, and I don't just mean the South Carolina-Clemson dust-up that has resulted in each institution punishing itself by eschewing bowl bids.
Among the loose ends:
1. The Hard Foul
This regrettable episode in NBA history began with a so-called "hard foul" committed by Artest on Ben Wallace. It wasn't even that hard of a foul, but it came with 45 seconds to go in a 15-point game, and thus violated some sort of unwritten NBA ordinance, the implication being that had the same act occurred, say, in the middle of the third quarter, it would have been understandable, if not completely acceptable.
Hard fouls are anachronistic leftovers from a more primitive era in NBA history. Yeah, yeah, yeah, I've heard all the goon stories from the '40s and '50s, the point of which is to assure us that compared with those days, the contemporary NBA is a Ladies Auxiliary Tea.
I'd like to think we've progressed. Outright thuggery is not supposed to be part of basketball's fabric. It is supposed to be a game of speed, quickness, and finesse. It's not about muscle-flexing and intimidation. Contact, believe it or not, is supposed to be incidental.
I'm not naive. I know how the game works, especially under the boards. But at no point should the object be to hurt people. Move someone a bit, in order to establish position? Fine. Set good, solid picks? Yes. But extrapolating things to say "that no one is going to attempt a layup against us without paying a price," (which I've heard) is to distort and pervert the game.
The NBA sanctions hard fouls, which is foolish. They actually have gradations of "flagrant fouls," which legitimizes the very concept. In a better basketball world, one of these so-called "hard fouls" would be "see-ya-later" fouls, period. There'd be no shades of gray.
Look, the Celtics have benefited from the concept as much as anyone. I was there when Kevin McHale, ordinarily Mr. Finesse, turned around the '84 Finals by mugging Kurt Rambis. I was also there when M.L. Carr, a certified Nice Guy off the court but a ferocious envelope-pusher on it, viciously pulled down a Nets guard named Darwin Cook. I will never forget the sight of Cook lying there, face down, on the Rutgers Athletic Center floor, in what, for all I knew, were going to be his last few moments on this earth. That wasn't a hard foul. That was a criminal act, and not M.L.'s only one, either. But it was OK because he was our M.L.
We didn't need that stuff then and we don't need it now. I'd like to think David Stern & Co. would take this opportunity to change the philosophy of a hard foul forever, but I know better.
In fact, what was Doc Rivers (another off-court Nice Guy) saying the other day about 19-year-old Al Jefferson? The coach was saying young Al needed to learn "how to give a hard foul."
In other words, here is a nice young man with inherent basketball gifts, but he won't be a real NBA player until he discovers his inner Rick Mahorn? That's sick.
We don't know to what extent alcohol played in the breakdown of order at The Palace of Auburn Hills, but let me ask you something.
Those liquids we saw flying around for the duration of the melee . . . were they (a) water; (b) Coke; (c) coffee, or (d) beer?
There's a lot of earnest discourse taking place at every level of the sport about how the fans have gotten out of control, and are starting to think they should be part of the action, and how they've gotten more abusive over the years, and, finally, how they have come to resent the players for their salaries and increasingly self-aggrandizing behavior, and there is some validity to all of it.
There is now talk that fans will be encouraged to police themselves, calling out patrons who are spewing profanities or who are otherwise ruining the experience for themselves and their families. Who could object to that? But it still doesn't address the single biggest impediment to a well-meaning person enjoying himself or herself at a ballgame, and that is, of course, the sale of alcohol at sporting events.
I'm sorry. I've been a fan all my life, and I do indeed still sit in the stands. But I have never felt that the experience is incomplete without a beer. Before the game? Perhaps. After the game? Almost definitely. But during? And at those prices? What is the matter with people?
If leagues and owners wanted to eliminate a huge percentage of their fan-based problems at events, they would stop selling alcohol. It's that simple. And until they do, they are all hypocrites of the first degree.
For corroboration, interview an usher at any major stadium or arena. These people know the truth, and the truth is they would never have to do anything but show people to seats if nobody in attendance was drinking beer. Or, given the increasing popularity of full-scale bars in these places, drinking, period.
We all know why alcohol sales will continue. This is a phenomenal source of revenue. Money bellows. There isn't an owner with the requisite combination of deep pockets and ethical backbone to reject the money that pours in with the sale of alcohol.
Remember. That wasn't water, Coke, or coffee you saw flying around for the duration of The Brawl last Friday night. That was liquid profit.
3. Ron Artest
I actually had moments of compassion for him the day after David Stern suspended him for a year. I was actually entertaining the thought that perhaps Stern had come down too hard. Then I learned that Ron Artest, classlessly wearing a "Tru Warier" T-shirt promoting his record label, had gone on the "Today" show at some length without actually apologizing, and that he had shamelessly plugged the infamous Allure CD, in effect making a mockery of everything that happened Friday night. This is the textbook definition of "Not Getting It."
Now I'm thinking that maybe he should think about it until 2006.