The 2007 NBA Playoffs have forced almost daily updates to my "Dead To Me" list. Here's the current listing:

10. Reed Richards and Tony Stark
9. Seventeen-year cicadas
8. People who misuse ellipsis points
7. I-290 East (prior to the Austin Blvd. exit)
6. Hugh Jackman
5. Linear algebra
4. Kobe Bryant*
3. StubHub
2. Stu Jackson
1. San Antonio Spurs

*This is the first time Kobe's been out of the top 3 since the fall of 2001.

So...what have the NBA playoffs taught us so far? That it's okay to sweep a leg (Bruce Bowen), knee an opponent in the frigamajig (Bowen again), mash somebody's face with an elbow (Baron Davis), and clothesline a guy nearly to death (Jason Richardson) -- none of those plays resulted in a suspension (and lest anyone forget, Kobe Bryant got suspended this season, twice, for doing less). It is not okay, however, to step over a painted line after somebody shoulder-tackles your two-time MVP teammate into the scorer's table. Way to maintain order, David Stern!

This is a textbook example of traveshamockery. A roleplayer from one team thugs the best player on the opposing team, and the team that gets punished is the one that was victimized in the first place. NBA executive vice president of basketball operations Stu Jackson had the audacity to say, ""It's not a matter of fairness. It's a matter of correctness."

Really, Stu? Is that right?

Here's what I want to know. How is the "can't leave the bench" edict the only true zero tolerance rule in the NBA? Everything other rule is open to some manner of interpretation. If a player charges into the stands after an abusive fan, he might get suspended 11 games (Vernon Maxwell), 73 games (Ron Artest), or only 1 game (Antonio Davis). If a player punches somebody, he might get suspended for five games, or he might get 25. Every situation is unique and must therefore be judged on its own merit. I mean, referees are forced to make judgement calls all the time on what consitutes a hand-check, a travelling violation, a charge, a flagrant foul, and so on. Why can't there be a judgement call in this type of situation? There's also supposed to be a zero tolerance policy for post-whistle complaining, but players bitch and moan about fouls (and non-fouls) all the time. The fact is, NBA officials have always been able to pick and choose how and when they enforce the rules.

But that's all beside the point. "Zero tolerance" rules are designed by people in positions of power who want to absolve themselves of the need to use logic or wisdom. They can always fall back on this excuse to disarm their critics. The granddaddy of all zero tolerance rules is that the referee is always right, but when Joey Crawford threw Tim Duncan out of a game for laughing at his calls from the bench, the league decided that Crawford needed to be punished for his behavior. Apologists for the NBA can say that Crawford was punished because he asked if Duncan wanted to fight, but asking "Do you want to fight?" is the lamest of aggressive things ever said on a basketball court, even by officials. Crawford was punished because, against all reason, he chose to eject one of a team's critical players during one of the league's critical matchups. And now the NBA is doing the exact same thing.

This is not a "damned if you do, damned if you don't" situation for the NBA. The following would be a completely legitimate statement by Commissioner Stern regarding this incident:

"In light of the fact that there were no punches thrown and that this incident began as a result of aggressive action taken by the Spurs, I consider it more prudent to follow the spirit of the law. Following the letter of the law in this case would create a very high incentive for teams to send thugs onto the floor to fight in an effort to get opposing benches suspended. I cannot in good conscience allow such a precedent by rewarding bad behavior. In a related story, Robert Horry has been suspended for the next Spurs/Suns game."

That didn't happen though, and it won't. And in the meantime, the Spurs have become the new Bad Boys. They've very quietly played rough and dirty for years, to the point where their behavior is now an irrevocable part of the institution. Trying to combat their tactics is like trying to stop a tank by blowing on it with a straw. You can't talk about it without being labeled a whiner, you can't react without being punished, and you can't count on the league to protect you.

You know what I'd like to see? Retribution. If I was coach Mike D'Antoni, I'd send Pat Burke into the game and instruct him to guard Duncan. I'd tell Burke to do his best Bill Laimbeer impersonation and pull every dirty trick in the book. I'd have him grab, hold, and trip. I'd tell him to step on Duncan's feet and undercut him at every opportunity. Then I'd tell him to deliver five of the hardest possible fouls whenever it looked like Duncan might shoot the ball. Then, for foul number six, I'd order Burke to level Duncan. Just drop him to the floor. Let's see whether any of the Spurs lose their cool and jump off the bench. I'm sure the Phoenix players would be more than happy to donate the money needed to pay Burke's fines.

Would that be a petty, rotten, dirty thing to do? Maybe. But it's not a matter of fairness. It's a matter of correctness.

[Many thanks to Evil Ted for his contributions.]

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