It may turn out to be one of the most ill-advised reverse pivots in NBA history, and certainly one of the most costly.
Nick Van Exel was heading to the Los Angeles Lakers’ bench with 3:23 to play in a 98-91 loss at Denver Tuesday night, when he abruptly turned around to confront referee Ron Garretson. To the shock and dismay of his coaches and teammates, Van Exel hit the smaller Garretson with a forearm shove, knocking him off his feet and onto the courtside scorer’s table.
It was uncertain Wednesday just what it was that set Van Exel off. But it was clear that the NBA would not tolerate an assault on one of its referees.
Van Exel was suspended for the rest of the regular season (seven games) and fined an NBA-record $25,000.
Lakers vice president Jerry West, who only three weeks ago had to deal with the disappearance of forward Cedric Ceballos, didn’t attempt to hide his disappointment in Van Exel in a statement released by the Lakers Wednesday.
“We agree with and support the league’s decision 100 percent,” West said. “I’ve dedicated 35 years - my entire adult life - to this game and this league, and I think it’s imperative that the NBA address the incredible number of incidents that are undermining the professionalism of this league.
“Personally, I’m embarrassed, and (I) apologize to our fans.”
Ceballos was stripped of his position as Lakers co-captain after his unauthorized spring break last month. Van Exel was one of Ceballos’ most outspoken critics, saying: “He abandoned us.”
The Lakers’ other co-captain? Van Exel.
Magic Johnson, who termed Van Exel’s outburst “inexcusable,” will join veteran Sedale Threatt as co-captain.