I was watching the Spurs/Mavericks showdown yesterday, and I was as stunned as Tim Duncan was when Joey Crawford ejected him
near the end of the third quarter for laughing. I've been following the NBA since the early 80s, and I've never
seen nor heard of a player getting tossed for giggling on the bench, let alone a superstar, champion, and former MVP like Duncan. And unless I'm very much mistaken, it's completely unprecedented in the history of the league.
To be sure, Duncan isn't faultless in this. He's playing the aggrieved party and claims (probably correctly) that he didn't say anything more than "I got fouled" to Crawford during the game. But then, backtalk never has been Duncan's modus operandi. He's a non-verbal complainer who uses well-timed eye-goggles and mildly disbelieving looks that, in and of themselves, speak volumes. That's what happened yesterday, when Duncan reacted to a lousy call by Crawford with some pointed cackling. See for yourself:
On the surface, Crawford's actions have a by-the-book justification, since the NBA began the current season with a zero-tolerance policy
for post-whistle complaining. But if you've been watching the season unfold from opening day, you know that most of the enforcing was done during the preseason and the first few weeks of the regular season. Once the complaints had died down to what the league probably deemed an acceptable level, the refs pretty much put their whistles away.
However, Crawford has a history of trying to tame "unruly" players, and while his actions may have followed the letter of the law, they certainly violated the spirit of it. Duncan's complaints weren't affecting the game or showing up the officials, primarily because they came from the bench. If Duncan had been on the court, laughing in Crawford's face, the ejection might
have been warranted. But Crawford wanted to make a personal statement -- I won't let a player mock me -- and he ruined a highly competitive, nationally-televised game between two of the best teams in the league (the first and third, to be exact). Now, the day after what could have been
a regular season classic (had Duncan remained in the game), everybody's talking about the officiating instead of the game (which will now and forever be considered a "tainted" win for Dallas). What's more, it effectively cost San Antonio any realistic shot at the second seed in the Western Conference Playoffs. It's more bad publicity for a league that's constantly trying to improve its image, and I bet David Stern is pissed
But in the end, Stern will at least publicly support Crawford. He has to, because the only other alternative is to openly admit that one of his top officials is willing to compromise the integrity of a game, and a big-time game at that, to address what would appear to be a very personal vendetta against one of the league's poster boys for good behavior. The problem with that, of course, is that it will only serve to re-enforce the notion held by many fans that officiating can, does, and will continue to decide games, both during the season and (more importantly) in the playoffs. So while the short-term victory may have gone to Crawford, in the end we all lose. Unless of course we get to see a Crawford/Duncan fight during next year's All-Star Game. Then it will all have been worth it.
Labels: Dallas Mavericks, Joey Crawford, officiating, San Antonio Spurs, Tim Duncan