Is the NBA Sacrificing Integrity for Popularity?
A headline on ESPN.com yesterday read:
Draymond Green, the man who just gave Steven Adams a swift kick to the groin, is “mentally worn out”. I wonder if that was included on the injury report for game 4. Marc Spears of ESPN went so far as to say that it was “grueling” for Draymond to have to “sit and have to wait all day” to hear of a decision from the commissioners office. No mention of the testicular contusion that Steven Adams suffered because of Green’s actions, though.
I’m not sure what’s more abominable, that ESPN decided to run this as a piece or the fact that Green was not suspended by the NBA for a kick that looks more damning every time you see it. The NBA has come under harsh scrutiny for this decision specifically, considering that just a few days earlier Dahntay Jones of the Cavaliers was suspended one game for a groin shot far less malicious, while Draymond came away with only a $25,000 fine (Both cheap shots can be seen here https://vine.co/v/iEx02MuD7Oi). There has been criticism that the NBA favors their star players, and even the players themselves are aware of special treatment, as Kevin Durant said after game 3, “They’re not going to suspend Draymond Green. He’s one of the premier players in the league.” While the criticism is fair, and I tend to agree with it, we need to tweak the rhetoric to accurately portray the kind of favoritism that the NBA is displaying by not suspending Green. The league seems to be favoring the ideal matchups for the popularity of the league as a whole, but unless the Warriors make an improbable comeback, it seems as though their decision is going to backfire on them.
As Durant mentioned, Draymond is a “premier player” in the NBA, and many fans will point to that fact alone as the reasoning for the lack of a suspension, but Grizzlies fans will say otherwise. Just two years ago, Zach Randolph was suspended for game 7 of the Western Conference Semi-Finals for punching none other than, Steven Adams. The argument can be made that malicious intent is much more easily proven through a punch as compared to a kick, but many would agree that Green’s intent was readily apparent.
So why the suspension for Z-Bo and not Draymond? You can look at the differences in league-wide appeal for a potential explanation. In 2014, and even now, the Grizzlies were considered an aging team in a small market, still reliant on the old “ground and pound” offensive system that much of the NBA has ditched for a more aesthetically pleasing “run-n-gun” offense. This is in stark contrast to the young and athletic Thunder, who also reside in a small market, but are incredibly more popular with NBA fans with their two superstars in Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, illustrated by the Thunders’ #5 spot in team jersey sales in 2014. As a result, while Zach Randolph was selected as an all-star just one year before, the NBA made him sit out for the deciding game of the series.
One can see the same forces at work for the decision on Draymond. The Thunder are still a wildly popular team bolstered by two superstars, but they are facing a historically great team with the best shooter on Earth, and a chance to repeat. The league knows how popular the Jordan Bulls were in the 90’s, as well as the Kobe-Shaq Lakers in the early 2000’s. People love watching greatness, and the Warriors have a chance to complete the best regular season in NBA history. It is definitely not in the league’s interest to have the Warriors playing at a competitive disadvantage; consider how much Steph and the Warriors’ popularity would skyrocket after another title. The NBA absolutely loves discussions about the hypothetical matchups between today’s Warriors and every other dynasty that came before them. It’s a catalyst for interest in the NBA, and the league front office is definitely not going to jeopardize the Warriors’ shot at finishing their historic season.
ESPN’s Skip Bayless coined this type of decision-making as “sacrificing what’s right for what’s best”. But is this really what’s best? Sacrificing the league’s integrity to provide the Warriors with their best chance to win? Adam Silver has done a great job thus far, but this is a misstep from an otherwise promising tenure as commissioner.