Fans and former players of the NBA tend to reminisce on how the olden days of the league allowed for more physical altercations between players. Both parties normally follow that thought by saying the current NBA is far too soft compared to how the league was from the 80s to the early 2000s.
Most will point to the hand checking rule for this shift in play — the illegal contact by a defensive player that impedes the forward movement of the offensive player — but I’m not talking about common fouls. I’m referring to when former players-turned-NBA analysts talk about how much they enjoy seeing current players get into each other’s faces and really show their “passion” for the game.
Yet, these same analysts raise questions when two players in clear dispute with one another are both given technicals. Countless times, I’ve heard TNT and ESPN analysts like Reggie Miller and Jeff Van Gundy complain about officiating being “too soft” when it comes to issuing techs and flagrants.
Yes, technical and flagrant fouls are being called more often than they were decades ago, but it’s not as if it’s without a good reason. It makes sense for refs to be harsher on more serious fouls.
Charging a tech on a player is more likely to prevent them from any further outbursts, as opposed to just calling a personal foul. And the only reason why a ref would want to prevent anymore outbursts is to ensure safety. This explains why refs are quick to break-up any altercation between players, even if it is just petty trash talk.
The league is simply scarred from the infamous “Malice at the Palace” incident that took place 14 years ago between the Indiana Pacers and the Detroit Pistons. Pistons center Ben Wallace was fouled hard by Pacer forward Ron Artest during garbage time. Wallace shoved Artest and the two weren’t separated as quickly as they should’ve been. The incident escalated into a larger mess that saw the suspension of nine players for a total of 146 games, which led to a total of $11 million in salary being lost by these players, as well as five fans facing criminal charges and being banned from Pistons home games for life.
Though obviously an extreme case, fans and former players should take the “worst night in NBA history” into account before complaining at officiating for preventing players from getting into a fight. Trash-talk, shoving matches and player-beef are entertaining to watch, but not when it comes at the expense of the safety of those actually at the game.