Only eight days ago, Rod Thorn was saying that peace was at hand in the NBA.
“Not one player has thrown a punch so far,” said Thorn. “That is unprecedented at this stage of the season.”
Thorn is the NBA director of operations, which means he is the league’s high sheriff watching over the pugilists and pouters wearing shorts and sneakers.
Last year, he seemed to be dealing with a brawl a week, and it was Thorn who was the driving force behind the stricter rules adopted by the NBA about fighting and taunting.
“One of the best things we did was put in an automatic one-game suspension (without pay) for anyone leaving the bench during an altercation on the court,” said Thorn. “That has kept a lot of extra bodies out of the action and makes it easier to keep order.”
As we talked, Thorn said he hoped the ugliest incident this season would be Scottie Pippen’s chair toss last month, which cost the Chicago Bulls star $5,000 and a one-game suspension.
That seemed a little lenient, considering this is the new Law & Order NBA.
Thorn’s voice trailed off and you knew something was unsaid.One of the reasons that Pippen may have
received mercy from the court is that he was given a very quick ejection by Joe Crawford, an official known for his hot temper.
Pippen was complaining about Dennis Rodman standing in the key for more than 3 seconds. Boom. One technical foul.
Pippen asked what he said to deserve that. Boom. Another technical, and he was gone.
Then Pippen threw the chair into the middle of the court.
This is not to defend Pippen, but it must be said that Crawford is the only official to eject ex-Cavaliers quiet man Larry Nance.
So, you almost start to have a bit of compassion for Pippen. I said almost …
Then Pippen told the Chicago Sun-Times: “I wish I hadn’t thrown that chair on the court. I wish the chair had been the referee instead. I threw the chair because I felt I might as well get my money’s worth.”
What Pippen got was off. Thorn should have given the guy five games so that some other clown doesn’t figure he may as well throw in his two cents by heaving a chair - and this time, it just might hit someone.
Which brings us to Vernon Maxwell. Not 8 hours after I talked to Thorn, Maxwell was harassed by a fan in Portland.
Maxwell’s lawyer said he was being called foul names. “If I had been there, I probably would have cold-cocked the guy, too.”
How nice. The gentleman speaking was counselor Dick DeGuerin, whose previous clients included the late David Koresh of Waco, Texas. Well, Thorn wasn’t buying any of this. He nailed Maxwell with a $20,000 fine. But the real knockout punch was the 10-game suspension without pay, which should cost the Houston guard another $225,000.
Thorn said he couldn’t think of any incident to rival this one during his 10 years in the NBA office. In 1991, Charles Barkley was fined $10,000 and suspended one game for spitting at a taunting fan and splashing an 8-year-old girl instead.
But when it came to Maxwell, Thorn said he simply would not tolerate players hitting fans. That sounds pretty logical to me, but there has been a surprising backlash.
Poor Vernon. He was being insulted and he had to defend his honor.
Come on. Maxwell went 12 rows up into the stands to clock the guy. How could he even be sure that he got the right man?
If the guy was indeed saying everything that Maxwell’s lawyer claims, all Maxwell had to do was tell a coach. The coach could tell a security man, and the fan would be told to shut up or take a hike. It’s that simple.
“You hear hecklers in all arenas,” said Mario Elie, Maxwell’s teammate. “It’s part of the game and you deal with it. They buy their tickets, get a little drunk and say something rude. But you’ve got to go beyond that.”