Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Suns, suspended + sports notes

The NBA would do well to follow the teachings of (not-Leandro) Barbossa, who wisely pointed out that the Pirate's Code is best viewed as a set of guidelines than hard and fast rules. The evil pirate's had a much smarter approach to legal reasoning than the NBA, which suspended the Suns' Amare Stoudemire and Boris Diaw one game each for leaving the bench momentarily, reacting to a cheap shot delivered to their star point guard in the closing seconds of the game. The Spurs' Robert Horry, the instigator, got two games. Under the NBA's Draconian rules, any player leaving the bench during an altercation will be automatically suspended for one game, no questions, no exceptions.

It's a lazy rule, and by applying it without thought or care, the decision led to a horrid result which rewarded the bad actor while punishing innocent actors. It's hard to imagine such an ill-considered decision made by someone not associated with the Bush administration, but there you have it. Sports fans everywhere are rightly furious.

To add insult to injury, David Stern is now trying to make high-minded "letter of the law" justifications for his mistake. On the Dan Patrick Show, Stern came off as a defensive, self-satisfied douchebag. "A rule's a rule", Stern insists from his Olympian perch, insinuating that he's too high-minded to worry about such pesky matters as facts. If we don't apply rules inflexibly, why, we'd have...judgment calls! You can't have the league commissioner, getting paid tens of millions of dollars a year, actually be put in the tough position of making judgment calls, can you? Stern pretends that he's applying the law judiciously, but as a former attorney he should know that few laws are bright-line rules applied with no flexibility. The law empowers courts to take situation and circumstances into consideration. Even the most inflexible of laws -- traffic laws -- are enforced and applied differently: nobody treats the guy running red lights to get an ailing mother to the hospital the same as a drunk driver. That's why we have judges -- note the title -- rather than judicial clerks deciding matters.

Stern's been a very good commissioner, but he needs to call a PR firm and regroup. And contrary to Stern's retorts, the problem isn't just that the results are unjust but also that his reasoning is screwed up. Only the most intellectually lazy, folks incapable or fearful of making judgments based on available information, would reason in this literal fashion. I mean, what happens when the Suns send cheerleader Sean Marks to break Tim Duncan's knees, and Parker and Manu rush in to defend their star? Suspend them all? If the Suns end up losing this game, the heat's gonna be turned up another three notches.

Bill Simmons just posted his take. Pretty dead-on, especially this part:
Let's say you're one of the best seven players on the Phoenix Suns. You love Nash -- he's your emotional leader, your meal ticket to the Finals, the ideal teammate and someone who makes you happy to play basketball every day for a living. He's killing himself to win a championship. His nose was split open in Game 1. His back bothers him to the point that he has to lie down on the sidelines during breaks. He's battling a real cheap-shot artist (Bruce Bowen) who's trying to shove and trip him on every play. But he keeps coming and coming, and eventually, everyone follows suit. Just as things were falling apart in Game 4 and you were staring at the end of your season, he willed you back into the game and saved the day.

Suddenly, he gets body-checked into a press table for no real reason on an especially cheap play. You're standing 20 feet away. Instinctively, you run a few steps towards the guy who did it -- after all, your meal ticket is lying on the court in a crumpled heap -- before remembering that you can't leave your bench. So you go back and watch everything else unfold from there. Twenty-four hours later, you get suspended for Game 5 because your instincts as a teammate kicked in for 1.7 seconds. Think about how dumb this is. What kind of league penalizes a teammate for reacting like a good teammate after his franchise player just got decked?

Random sports notes:

* How do you not go with the Suns this series after all the dirty tactics we've seen? I respected the Spurs before, but man, it's hard not to root for Steve Nash, the consummate warrior and the best pure point guard I've ever seen.

* Warriors-Jazz. Every time I tune in to this series, I see some variation of this sequence: (1) Stephen Jackson or Matt Barnes launching an off-balanced trey; (2) AK-47 grabs long rebound; (3) Utah goes into half-court set, resulting in a Boozer post move, an Okur three, or a second-chance basket. The Jazz must be something like +60 in the playoff games I've watched. So on the internets I find out that the Jazz are actually not the second coming of the '87 Lakers, but a mid-tier team. Maybe so, but the nine quarters of Jazz basketball I've seen on the teevee make them look like world-beaters, and this team seems to match-up well to both the slow-footed Rockets and the run 'n gun Warriors. They'll give the eventual NBA champs (Suns or Spurs) a tough series.

* The Rocket in pinstripes. Well, we'll always have Pedro. It's sad, I suppose, that my favorite player growing up turns out to be a mercenary. But that's what he is, and the deals on the table weren't even close. Can't blame the guy for taking an extra $9 million. Plus, a pro-rated $28 million (+ luxury tax hit) is a lot of coin in exchange for 5.1 IP and a 3.80 ERA, which is what you can expect from Clemens facing the more patient and deeper lineups in the AL. In any event, the Yankees', with their roto-team lineup and the addition of Clemens and all-world prospect Philip Hughes, should be able to mount a run. If the Yankees don't, they'll be biggest bust in baseball history. Not a good way to send Steinbrenner off.

* Red Sox: Best team in baseball? When you're first in the league in runs scored and runs against, the answer is pretty clear. Can this excellence be sustained for the entire season? Last couple of seasons, the Sox took a dive soon after the all-star break. This team should be more resilient. Offensively only Lowell and the 2B platoon are seriously overperforming; Theo's high-priced acquisitions like Lugo and Drew haven't stepped up yet, and Manny should regress to the mean. As should Coco Crisp, the weakest link on the team right now. Even with four starters underperforming, the offense currently leads baseball in team OPS. A good sign.

The pitching should drop off some, as Schilling and Wakefield will end up with ERAs in the high 3's. But Beckett, as long as he can get a handle on the finger issue, should remain a Cy Young contender. Last year, he'll pump his straight 97 mph four-seamer until he's blue in the face, stubbornly "challenging" hitters at every opportunity. He's now mixing in a change-up and snapping off sharp curves for strikes on fastball counts, finally learning to pitch. It's a pleasure to watch. I'm also confident Dice-K will end up posting great numbers. Guy's stuff is just too good. Even in his strong start against the Tigers, he didn't have his best pitches working (the curve, slider, and the shuuto, a change-up with a screwball action). He ended up up throwing cutters and two-seamers most of the game, inducing 15 groundouts. Once Matsuzaka settles in, he'll be a top ten starter in the AL.

* Non-Sox baseball fans: If you love baseball, you owe it to yourself to watch at least one Curt Schilling start (the Sox are on TV like 20 times a year) and then go to Curt's blog 38 Pitches the following day to read about what's going through Curt's head as he's pitching. It's incredibly illuminating, the internet equivalent of reading Greg Maddux's notes after a game.

* De la Hoya-Mayweather. Caught some of the replay -- kinda reaffirms what everyone thinks about boxing these days. It's boring. A couple of guys getting a big paycheck and going through the motions. Hey, Oscar's got a hot wife, a hundred mil in the bank, fame, and the unblemished face of a tennis pro. Why risk your health by going all-out?