Since the lockout has been the subject of much vitriol in this space over the past few months, this week’s Rogue of the Week is back to what it should be—an NBA player doing something dumb.
Trust me, I’d much rather be writing about something like this every week, but when a work stoppage is crippling the sport, it’s hard not to point my finger at those responsible. Those interested in lockout talk can skip right down to the Stupid NBA Move, because the main part of this week’s entry will focus on Ben Wallace and a bad decision he made at the end of September.
If I were a cruel man, I could put Wallace in here for his free-throw percentage, a criminal 41.5% for his 15-year career (even Shaq shot 10 percentage points higher than Wallace!). But what Wallace actually did wrong was a lot more serious—driving around with a gun and a blood-alcohol content almost twice the legal limit. On September 24, Wallace was stopped in Bloomfield Township, Michigan, where a breathalyzer test revealed that his blood-alcohol was at .14, well over the limit of .08. What’s more, he was carrying a gun in a backpack, leading to a concealed weapon charge. Driving drunk is dumb. But driving drunk with a gun? That’s really, really dumb.
Fortunately for Wallace, that night will likely go down as the night he made a stupid mistake, and nothing more. He didn’t crash or harm anyone, and he cooperated fully with police after he was stopped. He’s admitted that he was drunk, pleading guilty to two charges, and the prosecution dropped a felony gun charge since the gun in question was registered to his wife and was unloaded. In all likelihood, he won’t face jail time and will probably be put on probation and have to perform some community service (sentencing is December 13). Wallace had no prior record, so it’s pretty clear that the incident was brought on by an alcohol-induced lack of judgment rather than a moral failing within Wallace. I’m not letting Wallace off the hook—he put himself in a bad situation—but let’s hope that his brush with danger reminds other NBAers, as well as the general public, that not everyone who drives drunk gets off as fortunate as Wallace did.
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Stupid NBA Move of the Week
Miami Heat owner Micky Arison became the third owner to be fined for lockout talk last week. All three fines have been largely unnecessary, more a case of Stern sticking to his guns and fining the league’s owners based on the action of talking about the lockout rather than fining based on the content of those comments. Stern’s fine on Arison was particularly excessive—$500,000, five times what he fined the other owners, Washington’s Ted Leonsis and Charlotte’s Michael Jordan. That’s still pocket change to Arison, whose net worth is valued at $6.1 billion, but if you look at what Arison’s been saying, it’s ridiculous for him to be paying that much.
Here are the incidents that led to the fine (all were Twitter posts, since removed). Source for these comments is this Brian Windhorst article for ESPN.
- Arison was asked, "How's it feel to be a part of ruining the best game in the world? NBA owners/players don't give a damn about fans, and guess what? Fans provide all the money you're fighting over you greedy (expletive) pigs.” Arison replied: "You are barking at the wrong owner."
Arison has a point—he’s not one of the guys complaining about the current system. He’s in a nice market, has great players and is probably making boatloads of money. It’s not in his best interest to change a system that benefits him. Revenue sharing and a harder cap is going to have a negative impact on the Heat and Arison. Stern is mad because Arison’s comment comes across as if he’s blaming the other owners, but we all know that guys like Arison, the Knicks’ James Dolan and the Lakers’ Jerry Buss don’t want to mess with the system that much. Arison’s tacit acknowledgment of this fact is hardly grounds for a $500k fine.
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-Arison was asked for his thoughts on Clippers’ owner Donald Sterling. His response: “lol.”
Again, Stern is protective of his owners, and he is specifically protective of Sterling [Editor's Note: Sterling is a horrendous owner and an even worse human being.] to a fault. If you’ve visited this site before, you’ve no doubt seen Sterling ravaged in an article or two (check out this page for a list of some of his transgressions), and it’s hard to make excuses for a racist whose sole aim in owning the Clippers is to make money. Stern doesn’t want to set a precedent or engage in a courtroom battle with Sterling by seizing the franchise (something he should have done a long time ago), but anyone who follows the NBA knows that Sterling’s a bad guy with zero commitment to winning. Arison’s comment can be taken a couple ways (is he laughing at Sterling himself or that someone would ask him his thoughts on Sterling?), but it’s harmless. No one’s going to be crying if someone starts taking verbal shots at the Clippers’ owner, least of all Sterling himself, who has continually ignored all pleas for him to give up the profitable franchise.
-One of Arison’s followers said that competitive balance between “all 32 teams" was an "unrealistic and stupid idea." Arison re-tweeted it with a cryptic smiley face.
Arison might be commenting on his follower’s ignorance (there are only 30 teams) or the idea that competitive balance between 30 teams is a pipe dream in a sport dominated by a few individual stars (something I happen to agree with). Just as with the “lol” comment, a smiley face is not exactly a condemnation of the league or its owners—it’s simply a bored guy having a little fun because he can’t watch his team play right now. It’s not clear what Arison exactly meant, but this much is true: there will never be competitive balance in a 30-team NBA. It can happen in football, with 53-man rosters and shorter career lengths, but in a sport like basketball, it’s just not possible.
Each team only has five guys on the court at a time, and if you have two really good players, chances are that your team can be quite competitive. The NBA has a choice between more franchises (and diluted talent bases) or fewer teams (but stronger rosters). Competitive balance can be a good thing in a smaller league, but what’s more fun in a 30-team league: watching two or three 60-win powerhouses slug it out or watching a lot of 50-win teams playing each other? I’d much rather see a few dominant teams face off than a lot of average ones. If you want parity where anyone can beat anyone, watch the NCAA tournament. If you want a league where the best of the best play each other, watch the NBA playoffs. Stern can’t have his cake and eat it too; expansion and competitive balance are inversely related, and that will never change in the NBA.