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It's a whistle-stop tour de farce in NBA

June 08, 2010|MARK HEISLER

BOSTON — A funny thing -- tweet! -- happened -- tweet! -- on the way -- tweet! -- to the NBA title.

Not that "funny" is the word Ray Allen would have chosen after fouling out of Game 1 in 27 minutes on some ticky-tack fouls he hadn't seen since UConn.

Nor was Kobe Bryant any happier after having to leave at a key moment of Game 2, after a ticky-tack call he might not have gotten at Lower Merion.

Welcome to the Matchup Everyone Wanted to See, two games of shooting 134 free throws and getting each other in foul trouble?

This is not a fluke and it's not a critique of the referees. It's a critique of the league that has changed the way the officials call games in its quest for more and better oversight.

Commissioner David Stern says he has to protect players. Stern would also like it if he never has to explain another Auburn Hills melee to his sponsors.

Actually, as opposed to fighting, NBA players mostly just mill around, as the Dodgers and Diamondbacks did recently.

In baseball, they call it the benches emptying and no one gets too upset. In the NBA, players would have been serving suspensions in shifts . . . which actually happened to the Knicks in the 1997 playoffs after a "fight" that consisted of New York's Charlie Ward tackling Miami's P.J. Brown.

With the league examining everything they do on video, NBA officials have gone from their old let-the-players-decide-it approach to calling everything.

Calls can be defended. No-calls, the basis of the old no-harm, no-foul approach, can't if Vice President Stu Jackson calls up, as he will sooner or later amid the deluge of complaints from aggrieved general managers.

Not that the league has over-streamlined the process, but in the '80s, a GM who was upset called Rod Thorn, Jackson's predecessor.

Then, GMs started sending in videocassettes.

Then they streamed video.

Now they just e-mail Jackson the time of game when the injustice occurred from their handhelds, while they watch the game.

Then there are suspensions for leaving the bench during fights, or getting too many technicals, even those from the double-technicals refs give out like parking tickets to tell players to knock it off.

Since Stern has never installed a judicial system he didn't like, it takes nerve to speak out, such as the former coach now doing color commentary whose identity I'm withholding for his own good.

Picking three letters at random, we'll call him JVG.

"We're a star-driven league," JVG says, "but it's like we are looking for ways to get our players out of games and I don't understand it."

Of course, JVG was with the Knicks when their players sat out in shifts in 1997.

A year later, JVG tried to break up a fight between Larry Johnson and Alonzo Mourning. Zo wound up dragging him across the court as if JVG were a furry toy attached to his ankle.

JVG points out he grabbed Mourning around the shoulders, man to man, even if it was very small man on a very large man.

"I was up high and then Larry hit me with a glancing blow," JVG says. "But when one weighs 260 and the other weighs 160, nothing is glancing.

"And then I slid down to Alonzo's leg and looked like a fool."

Those were the days!

However, for those who prefer basketball to watching players shoot free throws, sit on the bench in foul trouble or in civilian clothes serving suspensions, I have some suggestions:

* Put in a no-foul-out rule.

No other sport ejects players for doing something wrong, like striking out or going offsides.

Basketball not only ejects players, it revolves around players in foul trouble, putting all the more pressure on the referees.

Instead, after a player gets six fouls, the other team gets two shots and the ball on every subsequent foul.

What's the hard part?

* No one gets suspended in the playoffs for something procedural.

If someone does something heinous, that's different, but I don't have walking two steps off the bench as heinous.

* Take all intentional fouling out of the game.

There's no reason to say hard fouls are OK but flagrant fouls are going too far. Get rid of it all.

Anything that isn't a play on the ball is an intentional foul, giving the other team two shots plus possession.

That will also end Hacking Shaq, Dwight, et al.

Does someone think fans pay to see players grab other players and shoot free throws?

The NBA, it could be -- tweet! -- fantastic again.

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