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NBA vigilantes spared proper punishments for actions

"In this corner, weighing in at approximately 600 pounds, it's the L.A. Breakers, featuring Nick Van Exel, Magic Johnson and Dennis Rodman. Cedric Ceballos would be with us tonight, but he decided to take his mid-playoff-run vacation this week."

[Crowd cheers ecstatically]

"In the other corner, weighing in at almost 300 pounds fully clothed, it's Scott Foster, Ron Garretson and Ted Bernhardt, three bona fide NBA referees."

[Crowd boos]

"Let's get ready to rrrrrrrruuuummmmmble."

This scene may be coming to an arena near you soon. The Bulls as an organization seem more interested in winning another championship than in beating up referees, so it's plausible that they would trade Rodman to Los Angeles for someone like Vlade Divac. Divac appears to be more concerned with actually playing a full game before getting thrown out. If this trade worked out, it would likely benefit both teams. L.A. would have several players who could assault a referee if one of the other players were still on suspension, and Chicago would have a player who would probably keep his shoes on during the playoffs.

It's tough to say whether or not the NBA will turn into the World Wrestling Federation by the end of the playoffs or in a few years, but it is clear that the NBA is not fighting this change very hard.

The most difficult part of starting this argument is actually deciding where to start. We can look at Monday's suspension of Johnson for three games for pushing referee Foster in Los Angeles' game against Phoenix on Sunday. But it would really be unfair to pick on him since he was just following the lead of teammate Van Exel, who was suspended for the final seven games of the season for giving a forearm to referee Garretson. Once again, though, he was simply following the example of Rodman, who was suspended for six games for headbutting referee Bernhardt.

Interestingly, following the suspension of Rodman the NBA said that this penalty was being sent down to show the rest of the players that they would be heavily penalized if they touched a referee. Whoa, this is really working. NBA offices are located in New York CityDmaybe we should have them take over the city's school system so that children realize that if they shoot a teacher, they'll receive a hefty suspension. Unless, of course, the city playoffs are coming up soon and then the penalty will be appropriately shortened to make sure they are back in time.

It's hard to believe that the NBA can keep a straight face when they hand these things down. The public relations director for the NBA must be in a back room somewhere, falling out of his chair laughing as he writes the press release saying that the NBA will no longer tolerate this type of behavior.

Maybe I've been reading the whole justice system wrong, but generally if you are going to deter someone from doing something you make the penalty progressively worse, not progressively softer. The three acts that have occurred in the past month can pretty much be assumed as equal. They all involve a physical attack on a referee that didn't go past one blow.

Rodman and Van Exel received the six- and seven-game penalties, respectively, but then Johnson got away with only three games for doing the same thing the other players did. If another two or three players attack a ref they will start to receive monetary bonuses on their contracts.

Players aren't stupid. Well, some are, but they know how to read the league. After the L.A. game, Johnson talked about how he was going to get away with it.

"With my reputation and history, I can't imagine getting more than a one- or two-game suspension," ESPNet Sportszone reported Johnson saying. "I have to accept the suspension for what I did."

Well just don't be too hard on yourself, Magic. It feels like just a few weeks ago I was saying that if you want to be effective in punishing a team, you have to do something that they will really feel. Oh wait, that's right, I was. The NBA is taking good cues from the NCAA, which has the same problem with properly punishing its rule breakers.

The real reason behind these feeble penalties lies in the fact that ticket sales won't be as brisk if Magic Johnson is sitting on the bench in a suit during the playoffs as if he is lighting up San Antonio for a triple-double.

Besides the obvious problem with the NBA, the individual teams only add to the idea that violence is okay. The Detroit Pistons marketed their 1980s teams as the Bad Boys, reveling in players like Bill Laimbeer who specialized in arguing with referees and shoving around other players after the whistle.

The Chicago Bulls have also taken an interesting approach to marketing their team. They have the greatest player ever to touch a basketball in Michael Jordan, arguably the best forward in the league right now in Scottie Pippen, and in a league that is becoming increasingly more global, probably the best European player ever to play in the NBA in Toni Kukoc. So who do they use to market the team? Rodman-the biggest of the league's bad boys. Jordan of course gets his share of advertising space, but Rodman is shopped in front of prospective ticket buyers like a three-headed fat woman at a country fair. I know that many people will argue that Rodman is the game's best rebounder, but if that's the point, why don't you concentrate on that instead of his various body pierces and red hair?

Despite all of these problems, I'm kind of happy with some of the great changes that will be taking place in the next few weeks. The boards put up around the court so that the players can cross-check the referees will be a nice addition. But I'm especially looking forward to the new NBA public service announcements featuring Van Exel.

"Hi, I'm Nick Van Exel. Kids, I'd just like to tell you to stay in school for four years so that you can receive your education. And while I'm at it, let me just say that when I deck a referee after a poor call, I use brass knuckles from Hoodlum Brothers, Inc. They really know how to pack a solid punch without tarnishing. And oh yeah, I love this game."

William Dvoranchik is a Trinity senior and associate sports editor of The Chronicle. He has been practicing pushing IM referees around all year in hopes of making it with the Laker organization next year.


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