Not to go all Bill Simmons on you, but one of the laugh out loud moments of David Halberstam’s masterpiece about the 1979-80 Blazers, “The Breaks of the Game,” is Halberstam’s re-telling of the moment when Portland reserve Lloyd Neal could no longer take Jack Nicholson’s courtside chatter during a game in LA.
It was unclear to his teammates if Neal knew who Nicholson was, so one of them mentioned that Jack had recently starred in “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.” Toward the end of that game, Kareem went up for a clutch shot only to have Bill Walton rise up and block it. As Walton stuffed the shot, Neal stood up, got in Nicholson’s face and yelled, “Take that, m-f-ing cuckoo!”
I do not believe Lloyd Neal was fined or suspended, though the record of such a fine would tough to track down now. Nor was Reggie Miller fined for gesturing the choke sign at Spike Lee and exchanging whatever heated words Miller had with the director and notorious Celtic-hater. Nor was Phil Jackson fined for allegedly yelling at Matt Damon to “sit down and shut the f— up!” during the 2008 NBA Finals in LA (at least according to a few witnesses, one of whom happened to know Bill Simmons).
But the NBA has fined Glen Davis $25,000 for saying some naughty words to a fan in Detroit who had been heckling Davis about Baby’s weight during the 2nd quarter.
And the fine is consistent with the NBA’s record of punishing players for impolite interactions with fans. It actually could have been worse; the league has suspended players for this sort of thing, though it usually reserves harsher punishments for players who make obscene gestures instead of merely saying bad things.
But players have been suspended for words alone. The league suspended Latrell Sprewell one game for making “vulgar” remarks (i.e. remarks of a sexual nature) toward a female fan in LA in 2004. You may recall that Spree had something of a prior disciplinary record.
Two years later, the league suspended David Harrison for yelling obscenities at a fan. Harrison had a bit role in the Pacers-Pistons brawl in Detroit in 2004.
I understand what the league is doing here. Personally, I have no problem with Glen Davis telling a jerky fan to shut up, even if he uses unsavory language in doing so. (Glen’s biggest problem was that TV and radio broadcasts caught his comments live). For this fan, Scott Zack, to file a complaint with NBA security is ridiculous. You go to an NBA game, you spend two quarters calling a player “fat” and “chubs,” and then you act surprised when the player fires back at you?
Scott Zack should be embarrassed. He deserved what he got. I hope Zack’s friends laughed at him when Davis finally cracked and responded. What a sniveling little coward.
Again: I understand what the league is doing. It has an interest in preventing anything like the 2004 Indy-Detroit brawl, and so it has an interest in eliminating heated encounters between players and fans. But if sports leagues fined every player who talked back to heckling fans, they’d be giving out a lot of fines.
About 10 years ago, I randomly scored seats to a Phillies-Cubs game in Philadelphia through a friend who roots for the Cubs. We might have been 10 rows behind home plate; a Bobby Abreu line drive foul ball came within six inches of killing me.
In any case, Joe Girardi was playing for the Cubs at the time. I was about 22—i.e. immature—and had a policy of booing former Yankees when I went to live games. It didn’t matter who was playing, whether I had a rooting interest in the game or whether the ex-Yankee in question had played one season or 10 with the Evil Empire.
It was a policy I fulfilled haphazardly (so I guess it wasn’t a policy?), depending on my mood, surroundings and which friends were attending the game with me.
I was merciless on Girardi. I don’t even remember what I said. I remember Girardi choking twice with the bases loaded, and that I taunted him—loudly—as he walked back to the dugout with his head down. I never used language any worse than the F-bomb or said anything vulgar, and I didn’t say anything Girardi hadn’t heard a million times before.
But he would have been justified had he looked up at me and dropped a few F-bombs.
Does that deserve a fine? Is baseball different from basketball? Certainly MLB players have attacked fans several different times in the last 10 years or so.
In any case, I give Baby a pass on this one. I don’t really think it’s a sign of immaturity. Sure, you’d like to have a player show a little bit more restraint, since they are going to have to get used to performing in enemy territory. But I’m not sure I could ever get used to someone screaming unflattering things at me all the time.