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Are the NBA rules for using the “F” word the way they should be?

May 23, 2011, 11:22 PM EDT

Miami Heat v Chicago Bulls - Game One Getty Images

Kobe Bryant and Joakim Noah both recently were caught using a homophobic slur that starts with the letter “F,” yet their fines were very different.  Kobe, who directed his shot at a referee, was fined $100,000, while Noah’s use of the term was directed at a “fan,” which only drew a $50,000 fine from the league.  Let’s take a look at the difference, and whether or not it was the correct move.

First of all, I doubt there will ever be a consensus in this argument, as everyone seems to have a different opinion. But quite simply, Kobe was fined more because he berated an official, while Noah simply violated the league’s conduct policy.  And while the obvious insensitivity by the use of the “F” word implicates both players, it’s possible they could be fined for getting caught on camera dropping any number of different curse words, including ones that are not offensive to a minority group.  We have to remember there are people within earshot, many times kids, who have to sit through these situations, and the league has no rules in place for one set of penalties against bigotry, and another against simply dropping an old school “F Bomb.”  There is “overall conduct” and “conduct toward officials.”  If you don’t like the rules, take it up with David Stern.  But the way they’re written, I think the two fines were appropriate to the rules.

And when you add in the fact that $100,000 means less to Kobe, at least as a percentage, than $50,000 means to Noah, it makes even more sense.  The real question I have is, why don’t the rules dictate a bigger fine for racism/bigotry, as well as what specifically makes attacking a referee more taboo than lighting a fan up?  Are referees more valuable than fans?

Unfortunately, the truth of the matter is that every situation is different and I like the fact the NBA has left some leeway in the rules in order to be able to make a judgment call when necessary.  Now, regardless of what the “fan” in Miami said to Noah, there was no reason for Noah to come back at him the way he did.  But if you listen to Taj Gibson, that “fan” was on him from the get-go and said some very personal things.  In other words, he provoked Noah into a confrontation, which was likely his goal from the outset.  In fact, the so-called “fan” is probably upset he didn’t bait Noah into a punch, so he could actually reap something from Noah’s loss.

On the other hand, Kobe wasn’t really provoked by the official, at least in the same sense as Noah was by the fan.  The officials and players have to work together, and there are specific rules written about a player’s interaction with the officials.  Once it crosses the line, the penalties will be handed out.  And just because a fan buys a front-row ticket, it doesn’t give him the green light to be a “jackass,” as Ken Berger of CBS so eloquently put it on Twitter Monday afternoon.

I fully expected the two fines to be different (despite them both using the same forbidden word) and like the fact that the league can use its judgment on interaction with fans.  What I’m hoping is that these recent fines don’t result in cameras being taken off benches, as well as players when they’re upset with a fan, or a call.  Each case is different.  And do I think that Noah, or anyone else, should drop an insenstive term directed at an official or a fan?  No.  But NBA players are human beings, and can only be pushed so far before retaliation ensues.  Obviously, a term like “assclown” or “asshat” works much better in these situations, but unfortunately, a lot of NBA players are going to use words that the rest of the world doesn’t approve of.  So the league will be left to decide the fines when these situations arise.  And I can live with that.  The bottom line is that Kobe and Noah should not have been suspended for their insensitivity, based on the current rules.  Maybe that will change in the future, but for now, the league has dealt with these two situations as it saw fit.  And I have no problem with that.

  1. ahemahem - May 23, 2011 at 11:30 PM

    The league office does not demonstrate enough intelligent analysis or explanation to merit fans’ respect. This is harsh language, but you really don’t know what they’re going to do next. It is culture-wide inasmuch you often don’t know what the referees are on the court are going to call, either.

  2. aqzi - May 24, 2011 at 1:43 AM

    I think this article was well thought out and well-written. I do have some commentary though.

    “But quite simply, Kobe was fined more because he berated an official, while Noah simply violated the league’s conduct policy.”
    I don’t think this is 100% true. I believe Kobe was fined more because he berated an official, because he makes much more than Noah, and because he is a much more exposed player than Noah. When an NBA superstar for the past ten years does what Kobe did (on a close-up on national TV, no less), it is a huge story. If the incident with Kobe hadn’t occurred, it’s clear the incident with Noah would be hardly the story it is.

    In that respect, I do think it’s justified that higher-paid, more popular players are fined more than lesser players. If the NBA had said, “We fined Kobe twice as much because he is a much more popular player who is much more exposed and therefore has an even greater responsibility to not use that word,” then that would have been fine with me. Being an athlete means you are a role model, whether you like it or not. Being a superstar athlete means you are an even bigger role model, whether you like it or not.

    On top of all that, Kobe’s comment was made to an official.

    “The real question I have is, why don’t the rules dictate a bigger fine for racism/bigotry, as well as what specifically makes attacking a referee more taboo than lighting a fan up? Are referees more valuable than fans?”
    Obviously referees are not more valuable than the fans; the fans pay the refs’ salary. But one drunk fan out of 20,123 in the arena is less important than one ref out of the three on the court. A player berating an official is a type of intimidation, a player berating a fan is anger boiling up.
    Regardless, it ultimately does come down to the fans. Sure, the fans don’t want to be disrespected, so the 0.1% of Americans who can afford seats in the first five rows to playoff games may be unhappy that Noah was only fined 50k. But the majority of fans don’t want to see the game tainted, which means they don’t want to see Kobe calling a ref a derogatory term. They probably couldn’t care less about the feelings of that rich, drunk fan.

  3. Steve Alexander - May 24, 2011 at 2:07 AM

    Great comments.

  4. goodbananas - May 24, 2011 at 2:25 AM

    “Doctor” A is a hack, and a fraud. He has made his entire career out of regurgitating and repackaging what other REAL journalists and reporters have already said, whether in his tweets or while writing blurbs. Go figure that when he actually writes something opinion-based that it is of terrible quality. For once bring something original and thought-provoking to the table. You are still a hack and have no credibility from most respected NBA writers out there. When people retort “anyone can do your job” in jest, they’re referring to people like you. Enjoy sitting on Twitter all day and re-tweeting others and pawning off their own ideas and thoughts as your own. Pathetic.

  5. bigtrav425 - May 24, 2011 at 9:00 AM

    Just words my friend just plain ol words!…but i will say i agree great article…il also say Stern is all about how people perceive him and the NBA.Somehow he thinks everyone loves him and the NBA,which in fact there is alot of hate for him atleast.So he would never be a man and stand up and say,”We didnt like what Noah said or did at all,but we understand he was being provoked in the middle of a intense playoff game” “that being said we have talked to him and warned him to try his best in not being provoked”…..somethng like that would of been a lil more better and suited for the situation, but again Stern would never do that because he would have all the gay groups up in arms and he wouldnt know what to do.In the end as much as i hate Noah he got screwed on this deal

  6. mister12 - May 24, 2011 at 10:27 AM

    Next, the NBA will incorporate chest protectors and face masks. The real question is how deeply connected are the Gay/Lesbian & PETA communities? When they feel offended, things happen pretty damn quickly.

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