The suspension of Zach Randolph for “punching” Steven Adams is a knee-jerk reaction that pushes the limits of “no tolerance” to new lows. The NBA I grew up watching was a man’s game, and what Randolph did would not warrant a suspension in the 1980’s-90’s.
What has happened to the NBA? The league hands out suspensions and fines like parking tickets. Players can no longer play with the aggression exhibited back when Larry Bird and Magic Johnson were dominating the NBA. The Bad Boy Detroit Pistons would be suspended for half the season if they played today. Shoves and punches were part of the game and the animosity created rivalries that made the league so much more interesting.
In Game 4 of the 1984 NBA Finals, this was on display when the Boston Celtics visited the Los Angeles Lakers down 2-1 and reeling from 137-104 blowout in Game 3. Kevin McHale blatantly clotheslined Kurt Rambis on a fast break that changed the course of that series in Boston’s favor. Rambis charged after McHale, and every person on both teams rushed the baseline to join in the melee.
The tension was evident from that point on. The rest of the series was a battle where punches, pushes, taunting and all-out anger were on display, along with some of the game’s greatest players playing at a high level.
Despite the physical play, it was one of the greatest Finals in NBA history. Not a single player was suspended, and that rivalry thrived for several more years off the bad blood just as much as the Bird-Magic factor. Comparing the replay of the McHale clothesline vs. Randolph’s punch is no contest. Although Randolph attacked a man without the ball, McHale’s hard foul was far more brutal and its impact was felt much more.
Ever since Metta World Peace charged into the stands to fight fans in Detroit, the NBA has taken a Draconian stance on anything resembling a physical altercation. The slightest negative emotion results in a technical foul. The days of the enforcer are long gone because players can no longer “enforce” anything. This pacified version of the league has made the regular season almost unbearable to watch at times.
As it stands, Game 7 of the Memphis Grizzlies vs. Oklahoma City Thunder series will be more about Randolph’s imposed absence rather than a win or loss. Randolph should have known better, as he is fully aware of the league’s position on such activity. However, it is beyond me that the league would suspend him for such an insignificant offense and hamstring the Grizzlies this way.
If this was 1988, he would have been assessed a technical and that would have been it. The fans would have been on the edge of their seats every time Randolph and Adams were on the court together in Game 7; it adds a dimension of excitement that has been absent from the league for several years. That is why those old rivalries lasted so long — those guys were sworn enemies and if fisticuffs occurred, then so be it.
The NBA has resorted to curing headaches by cutting off heads. I understand the league does not want another “Malice in the Palace,” but the gladiators stayed in the arena on this occasion. No blood was drawn and Adams merely veered off his path and glared at Randolph. Two men in the heat of battle occasionally get physical; it’s human nature, and the league needs to understand that.
Maybe Randolph should give them all a hug before Game 7. Then again, he would probably be fined for leaving the bench.