Wednesday, January 29, 2014

All-Sanctioned Team: Players, coaches and a mascot that drew David Stern's ire

If you crossed David Stern over the last 30 years, you likely paid for it. (Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)

"The Point Forward All-Stars" will have a new theme each week centered on a single shared trait that brings together the team members. This week, with NBA commissioner David Stern set to step down on after 30 years on the job this Saturday, we look back at some of the most memorable fines and suspensions from his tenure.

Previously: || ||||| THE ALL-SANCTIONED TEAM

David Stern will be remembered for his many business virtues -- he was a shrewd-negotiating, global-thinking marketing visionary -- but, like any commissioner, he was also his league's Disciplinarian-in-chief. Blessed with the perfect surname for that aspect of his job, Stern wasn't afraid to be the bad guy, and indeed he often seemed to relish the role, and the all-powerful image his sanctions helped cultivate.

Over the years, Stern fined and suspended players for all sorts of things: questioning the officials, failing drug tests, getting into fights on the court, posting Twitter messages during games, and, during the last two seasons, flopping. Owners, coaches, and entire organizations couldn't escape his iron first, either.

As Stern prepares to pass the torch, and the gavel, to deputy commissioner Adam Silver on Saturday, here's a rundown of the longtime commissioner's greatest hits to opposing pocketbooks, with a primary focus on hijinks from the last decade.

(Many thanks to the for its assistance.)


Gregg Popovich and David Stern playing nice during an awards ceremony. (Ronald Martinez/Getty Images Sports)

Unlike Cuban, who stands without peer among the ownership ranks when it comes to fines, there are a number of worthy candidates for the All-Sanctioned Team's coaching spot.

Let's start with perhaps the two most amusing: the Van Gundy brothers. Both had memorable run-ins with Stern over treatment of their respective centers.

Back in 2005, Jeff Van Gundy, then coaching the Rockets, for telling reporters that a referee had called to inform him that the officials were targeting Yao Ming during a playoff series against the Mavericks because Cuban had complained so much. In addition to the six-figure fine, was "not going to continue in this league" if he continued to make similar comments.

History repeated itself in 2011 when Stan Van Gundy, then coaching the Magic, was fined $35,000 for saying referees were targeting Dwight Howard, before he took a personal shot at the commissioner a few months later. "This is the system David Stern and his minions like," . "I certainly can't have an opinion because David Stern, like a lot of leaders we've seen in this world lately, don't really tolerate other people's opinion or free speech or anything. So I'm not really allowed to have an opinion." The comments were made during the so-called "Arab Spring," when a number of revolutions and protests were going on in the Middle East and North Africa.

Those comments somehow didn't draw a fine, but that Magic management needed to "rein in [Van Gundy's] aberrant behavior," that Van Gundy seemed to be "fraying," and that "we're not going to be hearing from [Van Gundy] for the rest of the season." Last year, that Stern blocked him from getting a commentating job at ESPN: "There's no question the comments I've made about David Stern kept them from hiring me. I said things that pissed him off."

So, if you're keeping track, that's one brother who was threatened by Stern with a ban from the league and another brother who believes his job prospects were influenced, either directly or indirectly, by Stern.

And yet neither Jeff Van Gundy nor Stan Van Gundy takes home top honors here thanks to an unforgettable confrontation between Stern and Gregg Popovich last season. When San Antonio's Hall of Fame coach elected to rest four key players during a nationally-televised game against Miami -- going so far as to send them home to Texas early -- Stern , calling the decision "unacceptable," promising "substantial sanctions" and following through with a monster $250,000 fine for the Spurs.

I wish I could find a transcript of this conversation. (Victor Baldizon/NBAE/Getty Images)

This November will mark the 10-year anniversary of the so-called "Malice in the Palace," and the key players involved in that unforgettable brawl are out of the league or on their last legs. Ben Wallace has retired, Jermaine O'Neal has played less than 400 minutes for the Warriors this season because of injuries, Stephen Jackson is currently without an NBA job after being released by the Clippers, and Ron Artestwell, he's now Metta World Peace, with knee injuries contributing to a new reality where he makes more headlines with his Twitter posts than he does with his play for the Knicks.

Surveying World Peace's NBA rap sheet could take the better part of an hour. He's drawn sanctions for shoving, throwing a TV monitor, smashing a camera, flipping off the crowd, drawing too many flagrant fouls, elbowing (multiple times), fighting with a fan in the stands, publicly requesting a trade, pleading guilty to domestic violence charges and striking an opponent in the jaw.

Now 34, World Peace isn't accruing fines and suspensions at the same rate as he did during his younger years. In fact, he completed an unexpected about-faces by winning the NBA's J. Walter Kennedy Citizenship Award in 2011 after he raffled off his 2010 championship ring to help raise awareness for mental health issues. He would , which raised $650,000, "the greatest thing I've ever done in my life outside of being married and having my kids."


After winning the award, which was voted on by the Professional Basketball Writers Association, World Peace for letting him remain in the league following the 2004 brawl. When he was asked by about the fallout from the brawl this week, : "Stern is good at letting things go."

The commissioner's strong reaction to the "Malice in the Palace" cost World Peace 86 total games (including the 2005 playoffs) and nearly $5 million in lost salary and it ushered in a new zero-tolerance, image-conscious era for the league. Although World Peace found himself in hot water time and again following the incident, including when he , there seems little doubt, judging from World Peace's comments, that Stern's handling of the situation left a positive impact on his life and career.


J.R. Smith's shoelace incident is just one instance of misbehavior on a lengthy rap sheet. (Andy Lyons/NBAE/Getty Images)

Social media provides a direct connection between players and fans, offering unrivaled opportunities for engagement and loyalty development! That marketing talk is all well and good until an NBA player of his female companion's large, bare rump across Twitter. Now what?

No player represents the NBA's modern punishment challenges quite like Knicks guard J.R. Smith, who was fined for that inappropriate photo in 2012, fined for towards another player in 2013 and fined for in 2014. Additionally, Smith was thought to bein 2009, he was of being "desert thirsty" towards women and "hungover from clubbing every night" during the 2013 playoffs, and he when the Knicks finally cut his brother. The cameras -- and camera phones -- are always on these days, and the NBA media's attention often finds itself on the league's weakest behavioral link.

Smith, of course, has gotten into trouble in more traditional ways, too: he has elbowed an opponent, failed drug tests, flopped, delivered an overly flagrant foul, pleaded guilty to reckless driving and participated in a 2006 fight between the Nuggets and Knicks. His coach, Mike Woodson, recently resorted to benching Smith in hopes of putting an end to some of the immature behavior, but there's no real reason to believe that Smith will pull himself together anytime soon.

The good news for Silver as he takes over the top spot is that Smith is the exception, rather than the rule, when it comes to player behavior on social media. By and large, today's NBA players, particularly high-profile players, are both brand-conscious and technologically savvy. The good news for Stern as he departs? Smith is somebody else's pain in the rump now.


Rasheed Wallace as a frequent recipient of David Stern's wrath. (Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images Sport)

The NBA's all-time leader in technical fouls -- and catch-phrases -- was a no-brainer for this list. Now an assistant coach for the Pistons, Wallace racked up a laundry list of sanctions from Stern over a 15-year career that included stops with six different teams before his (second) retirement in 2013.

A 38-year-old Wallace came back after two years away from the game in a limited role for New York, but he still found a way to as he argued with the referees. Never change, Sheed.

Wallace never did change, and his infractions over the years run an impressive gamut. A quick, line-item list includes: throwing the basketball at Luc Longley during a fight, wearing overly baggy shorts, yelling at the referees (multiple times), failing to be available to the media (multiple times), throwing a towel at a referee, attempting to go into the stands during a game, public criticism of the officials (multiple times), throwing an elbow, receiving too many technical fouls in one season (multiple times), throwing a towel into the stands, and using profanity during post-game comments (multiple times).

The crown jewel of his run-ins with authority came in 2003, when he was suspended for seven games for threatening referee Tim Donaghy outside the Rose Garden's loading dock following Portland's 100-92 victory over Memphis, a game in which Donaghy assessed a technical foul to Wallace for the manner in which he returned the ball to an official after a foul call. Although there was no physical contact between Wallace and Donaghy, who later pleaded guilty to multiple charges after the FBI investigated him for betting on games, Stern and vice president Stu Jackson nevertheless threw the book at Wallace, who at Donaghy.

"He accosted a referee and threatened him," . "We strongly believe the penalty that we issued was appropriate for Rasheed's actions.The actions here were completely out of bounds, and they were not appropriate and will not be tolerated."

A little more than a decade after that incident, it's worth a moment to reflect on the fact that Wallace remains gainfully employed in the league while Donaghy is disgraced and was imprisoned. Perhaps all of Wallace's shouting wasn't hot air, after all? Perhaps Silver should consider him for a position as a consultant for the league's officiating?


Superstars weren't immune to being punishment from David Stern. (Terrence Vaccaro/Getty Images)

Some of Stern's punishments have been explained as being in the "best interests of the game," but his $100,000 fine of Kobe Bryant in 2011 seemed to fall under the "best interests of humanity" heading. The Lakers guard was arguably the league's biggest star at the time, and he was caught on camera using an anti-gay slur while arguing a technical foul. This amounted to a major public relations nightmare for Stern, who has long prided his league on being accepting, forward-thinking and welcoming.

"Kobe Bryant's comment during last night's game was offensive and inexcusable," Stern said in a statement. "While I'm fully aware that basketball is an emotional game, such a distasteful term should never be tolerated. Accordingly, I have fined Kobe $100,000. Kobe and everyone associated with the NBA know that insensitive or derogatory comments are not acceptable and have no place in our game or society."


Roughly a month after Bryant's fine, then-Suns president Rick Welts, whom Stern had mentored and considered a friend, came out as gay , becoming the first openly gay male executive in American sports. Then, in April 2013, then-Wizards center Jason Collins revealed that he is gay in , becoming the first openly gay athlete playing in a major American team sport.

"As Adam Silver and I said to Jason, we have known the Collins family since Jason and [twin brother] Jarron joined the NBA in 2001 and they have been exemplary members of the NBA family," Stern said in a statement following Collins's announcement. "Jason has been a widely respected player and teammate throughout his career and we are proud he has assumed the leadership mantle on this very important issue."

The decision to fine Bryant a significant sum had its critics: some believed Bryant's words were uttered in the heat of the moment or so common in professional sports that they were not worthy of a fuss, while others felt it was regrettable that Bryant was caught but that the matter was not worthy of league office intervention. Some even suggested that it was political correctness run amok. Those same questions came up again when Pacers center Roy Hibbert was fined $75,000 for during the 2013 playoffs. Stern called Hibbert's comments "offensive" and said they "will not be tolerated" by the NBA.

During his tenure, Stern issued fines to squelch dissent, punish boorish behavior, protect his referees and polish the image of his players. Here, he seems to have stepped up on to a moral platform, establishing an equal rights standard by making examples out of Bryant,that his words did "not reflect my feelings towards the gay and lesbian communities and were not meant to offend anyone," and Hibbert, who issued an apology for his "disrespectful" comments. That stand has been reinforced by a recent public-service campaign that urged kids not to use the word "gay" to mean "dumb or stupid."

The discussion, in hindsight, shouldn't have focused on whether or not Bryant and Hibbert deserved to be fined. The far, far more important question is whether Welts and Collins would have come forward if they worked and played in a league run by a different commissioner, one without the backbone and the heart to take such a stand.

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