In sports, everyone is a winner—some people just win better than others. Like David Stern, who, in advance of NBA labor negotiations, is making vague Rovian noises about cracking down on "excessive complaining."
Two days ago, the NBA shared with the media this season's "points of emphasis." There was the standard stuff about policing illegal screens and pivot foots. And then there was this:
The video that covers this component of the rule enforcement which was shown to the media (and that the league is going around and showing to all 30 teams) was entitled "Respect for the Game." Basically what that means is that the league has determined that excessive complaining from the players about foul calls is something they want to greatly reduce, so they're trying to take it down several notches.
And the only way to do that is by calling more technical fouls.
The explanation on what will warrant a technical under the new rules seemed straightforward enough, at least in an off-the-court setting. Any gestures toward an official (or even away from one) that are deemed to be overt or excessive will be grounds for a technical foul. This can include claps or "air-punches" as demonstrations of disagreement against a call, or even excessive discussions with a referee over the course of a game about a multitude of calls.
Aggressively approaching a ref to complain will get a player rung up, as will running across the court at an official, even in a non-threatening manner.
Last night, a 29-year-old referee named Kane Fitzgerald took the new guidelines for a spin, tossing Kevin Garnett in the second quarter of the Celtics' preseason game against the Knicks. (Garnett had been protesting a technical charged to teammate Jermaine O'Neal, who, per ESPN's Chris Sheridan, had "mildly questioned" a foul call.) Adrian Wojnarowski — who no longer sounds like John Hinckley's diary now that he's eased off the frogs-and-locusts stuff about LeBron James — gets this one exactly right:
Don't blame Fitzgerald, because the idea of making an example of someone of K.G.'s stature comes straight out of Olympic Tower, straight out of an agenda that has nothing to do with the wants of the fans, nor the good of the game.
David Stern is doing what David Stern always does come bargaining time: He's summoning the old bogeymen. (Our friend Bethlehem Shoals would strenuously disagree on this count.) The new rule is pure politics, as Wojnarowski notes. It's a dog whistle to the public as we approach what might be the fourth — fourth — lockout on the old union-buster's watch. It insinuates all sorts of things about the players without actually saying anything. This is a league of spoon-banging crybabies, the rule whispers, and the NBA must take whatever measures are necessary to bring them to heel. Never mind that athletes will bitch about calls so long as there are refs around to make them, and never mind that whatever excessive complaining goes on now probably has as much to do with the competence of the current batch of officials as it does with the hot tempers of the players. Since the mid-1990s, the prevailing narrative of David Stern's NBA has remained the same: The punks have run amok; the league has an "image problem"; and the only possible recourse is for the NBA to more closely regulate the players' behavior and thus annex another small piece of their dwindling autonomy. That's how Stern sold the dress code to the public. That's how he sold the last lockout. And that's how he'll sell the next one, too.