Basketbrawl VIII: Rockets Red Menace

September 21, 2011

An uncomfortable incident occurred on Chinese hardwood recently, and I’m not talking about the ping-pong trick.  A friendly between the Bayi Rockets of the Chinese professional basketball league and the Georgetown Hoyas erupted into a melee.  It is was much worse than the ‘Malice at the Palace’ in terms of punches landed and players attacking each other, and the same in terms of crowd reaction and on-court official reaction.  The event was covered in the news cycle, but seems to have been lost, possibly dropped behind the great firewall by those engaging bumblers at the Washington Post.

One month later, unanswered questions linger like the disappointed memories of a goodwill trip turned borderline international incident.  The most interesting pair are: When is the next goodwill tour of China by an NCAA basketball team (surely other sports are more civilized)?  What were the ramifications for the players and officials involved?

To begin answering the former question, we must acknowledge that the Bari Rockets are not just a team in the CBA, they are the team.  They feature first ever Chinese NBA player Wang Zhizhi, and they are the Yankees, the Man U, the Canadiens, of Chinese hoops.  They are also sponsored by the army, as in ‘Bayi’ refers to the army, rather than where they play.  This article contains an account of the full trip, including the incident, and in fact seems to be the most extensive account on the net, but it does not answer our question.  While it purports to deal with the question about future goodwill tours, it is written from the perspective of someone in the Georgetown delegation, writing in something called ‘the Diplomat,’ so the incentives are all pointing directly towards the conciliatory tone in which the author does not actually mention any players feelings about the event (bait-and-switching with the ‘overall trip’ and the reconciliation afterword to fake the impression that he has).

Those feelings, and the way they proliferate throughout the NCAA may affect the number of goodwill tours in the future.  Those who do not recognizing this may also not be realizing that as the exchange rate changes, and flight costs rise, destinations like South America, Eastern Europe or even Nigeria will become more attractive.  Those areas already offer more teams playing at an appropriate level, where Bayi are the Chinese hoops fans’ only hope for a victory over the visiting Americans.

The latter question, about the suspensions and fines which would have been assumed, delivered, and feverishly reported had it been an NBA altercation, is equally difficult to answer.  This article gives an interesting glimpse into the Chinese social and institutional reaction and method.  It does not, however, answer the question: did anybody get suspended?  Reports of Georgetown coach John Thompson being yelled at for unknown reasons, and even more so these two statements on the Georgetown website, suggest that the Hoya’s view the whole thing as some kind of inexplicable nightmare which is best simply forgotten.  The Chinese reaction may suggest that they view it the same way, but the lack of information allows any sort of wild speculation.

Time will answer the first question for us, but it may never be known if there was any punishment meted out to the Chinese players or not.  The punishment for the Hoyas involved, apparently, will be left at that delivered on the court during the incident itself.  In light, however, of any real news on the NBA labor front (unsubstantiated and obviously false Chris Sheridan rumors notwithstanding), why has there been so little in print about it?  Perhaps international politics, fistfights and basketball are not as exciting, even in combination, as Ron Artest’s name . . . nah!

Brain damage.

February 19, 2011

When the New York Islanders and the Pittsburgh Penguins collectively lost their minds all over the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum ice last Friday night, they set up a media frenzy.  After the announcement of suspensions and comments from Penguins owner Mario the Magnificent, the story was lead news on CBC and actually reported in Pittsburgh sports pages!  Hopefully some rational discussion and decision will come of this great accumulation of nonsense.

To wit:

This is a guy who’s paychecks Mario signs, so he’s not only being hypocritical, some would say that he’s the wolf in sheep’s clothes.  That, however, would be both unfair and beside the point.  Mario’s reaction is an institutional reaction, because hockey ‘scores’ that were not settled by the referees but were deemed sufficiently egregious — usually meaning dangerous – have always been addressed by the players according to a code.  Some players may hold it dearer than others, some may even deny it, and I make no claim to know its finer points, but it is verifiably true.

So, bringing Matt Cooke back, please watch this clip of Don Cherry also reacting institutionally.  This was a very popular Coaches’ Corner segment, and his finger-wagging story is the kind of thing that has beautified him in some circles, but this is also an institutional response.  Nothing is gained.  I believe all is explained, and the Friday night incident was as predictable as the Leafs trading for youth in February.  To emphasize that point, if you follow NHL hockey closely, and you knew they were playing Friday, either you knew that was going to happen or you are a moron.

So what gives?  Why?  Both to Lemieux and Cherry: why?  Why do you have Matt Cooke?  At least Burke both gets the best fighters and acknowledges why he’s doing it.  Colton Orr hasn’t ended any careers lately.  One of Lemieux’ goons is the Ulf Samuelsson of his – oh!  See how that works everybody!*  What should happen is that both Lemieux and Cherry should team up and apply pressure on the league to give out meaningful suspensions.

The league’s response was also predictable, and the reaction from the league’s goons, and subsequent counter-reaction from their victims’ team’s fighters and goons, is equally predictable.  In that sense, Mario is right.  In the more meaningful sense, Mario is wrong in the sense that people trying to navigate by clouds are wrong.  You may be momentarily pointed in the right direction.  You cannot get where you are trying to go that way.

*for those too young to recall, Ulf Samuelsson was ostensibly a Lemieux bodyguard a la Semenko, but without fighting prowess.

The Sportsvssports suspension system:

Multi-time offender auto 1 game or 2x

Minimum penalty

Attempt to injure –            10

Head shot-                        1

Leaving feet-                     1

Injurious elbow,                1 with no swinging motion

kick, or high stick              3 with swinging motion

leaving bench                   10

sucker punch                     5

from behind                       2 if questionable.  5 if clear

All penalties are cumulative, so Cooke on Tyutin carries a minimum of 30 games, as opposed to the 4 he actually got.

Fights don’t injure people, Sean Averys do.

December 8, 2010

I am writing this on the evening after the nasty brawl between the Rangers and Oilers of November 14th.   As I do so it occurs to me that whenever I post this, as long as it’s hockey season and Avery and his ilk are active, there will be something in the immediate past that stands as an example of why fighting is in the game.  This kind of brawl reflects poorly on the sport, and whatever the Bettmanites believe, it does not draw in fans in the South as quickly as it alienates them in the North.

The above statement will be expanded upon soon in this forum, but for now let’s just agree that isn’t the most important reason why that kind of thing should be unacceptable in the NHL.  The brawl is particularly nasty because it involved not just more than two people, but also people on the bench, and caused such commotion that the game was delayed longer than any reasonable fan wants to wait for anything other than intermission.  The bottom line for the league is that violence has become a business problem.

This brawl itself was, however, not an example of ‘what is wrong with hockey’ as such, but rather is symptomatic of it.  The reality is that the first moment in the sequence in which an injury was substantially more likely than in game play was Avery’s cheap hit on Smid.  He made as if to skate away, and then attacked.  It was not a hockey play, and it was not a fight.

Everything after that is significant in a discussion about who should get one kind of penalties et cetera, however if you remove the Avery action which started it all, the rest of it simply would not have occurred.  Not all fights in hockey are a result of this kind of often injurious behavior, and most fights do not involve injuries.  Most fights do involve players who are essentially designated fighters, and almost all which involve other players can be traced causally, without thinking too hard about it, to something recent which involved one player taking a cheap shot at another.

Consider famous NHL catastrophes such as Bertuzzi/Moore, and McSorley/Braeshear.  In both cases a player attempted to instigate a fight with another to address cheap shots.  It is easy but more probably incorrect to say that eliminating fighting would have changed either incident.  Cheap shots occasion redress.

So what do you do about it?  The league’s approach appears to be to deny that there is such a thing as a cheap shot (please recall Bettman’s  ‘credit to the league’ comment about Darius Kasperitus, who had inarguably ended a star player’s career with a cheap shot just previously), while handing out the occasional suspension.  This is ineffective doublethink.  One possible solution is to crack down in a meaningful way on cheap shots.  Some misguided souls fear a drop in ratings if the Avery’s of the league disappear, but how many Vogue readers bought an NHL centre ice package?  Some more appropriately fear diving, but this already a growing curse which needs to be nipped in the bud, so get out the suspension book and take care of both birds with that stone!  The NHL should appeal to hockey fans.  Seems straightforward, doesn’t it Gary?  Gary?