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David Stern and Stu Jackson, we're calling on you today. This one's all yours.
Brendan Haywood should be suspended. For one game at the very least.
What the Wizards' center did to LeBron James on Monday night in Cleveland went beyond not being about basketball. It was exactly the sort of behavior that the NBA needs to curtail as swiftly as possible. And it was the sort of behavior that should certainly earn some post-game discipline.
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For those that may have missed it, Haywood was assessed a flagrant II foul for a hit executed on LeBron James midway through the third quarter of Game 2 last night, with the Cavs leading the Wizards by 15. The flagrant II carries with it an automatic ejection, and Haywood was accordingly given the gate. The game moved on, and the Cavs cruised by 30.
But the points remains: Brendan Haywood went well beyond any sort of acceptable norm for a play made on a basketball court. LeBron cut to the rim, caught a pass and began to rise to the rim. At this point, Haywood turned from his perch in the middle of the paint and gave the airborne James a two-handed shove that sent him tumbling out of bounds.
In case that wasn't enough, he topped it off by immediately throwing his hands up in the air in the classic "Not me!" gesture. As if it could have been anyone else.
So he was ejected, and rightfully so. But it isn't enough for such a deplorable act.
As one watches the tape (see above link), it's worth noting that at no point does Haywood even demonstrate a remote interest in, you know, the basketball itself. If he did, he would have tried to jump vertically to get his arms extended above LeBron's in order to get his hand at least coming down somewhere near the ball in addition to James' body. Instead, his movement is almost completely lateral, and he doesn't even make contract with James above his shoulders when he makes the shove.
No interest in actually making a basketball play. Strike one.
Further, Haywood's action was inordinately dangerous. We're talking here about a 263-pound man shoving a 240-pound man while he is in the air. With a man in the air having a weakened sense of balance -- and holding a basketball to boot -- this means that Haywood took a shot at a defenseless man. That James only tumbled into the folks sitting right on the floor and was able to get up and brush himself off with relatively little trouble thereafter was extremely fortunate. But it wasn't necessarily the most likely result, and it is by no means necessarily the result that would occur in a similar situation the next time around -- which, of course, there should never be.
Potential for serious injury. Strike two.
But sure, sometimes guys make dangerous plays simply by accident. Because they didn't know what they were doing or misjudged an angle somewhere. It happens. But, at the risk of trying to play mind-reader, that wasn't the case here. While we're generally loathe to attempt to get inside someone else's head, the surrounding evidence seems to add up well enough here. The Wizards were getting their heads handed to them, and Haywood was frustrated. That seemed to be the case prior to incident, and it certainly seemed to come through after the fact when he stormed off the floor and made a show of yanking his jersey off over his head while he was still visible en route to the locker room. But none of that accounts for the most damning evidence: history. Recent history -- very recent, in fact. As in two days earlier. That would be when Haywood cleaned out James on an illegal screen and then stood over him to prevent James from getting up off the floor, leading to an altercation in which both were assessed technical fouls. The man did something deliberately dirty on Saturday, and he did it to the same person to whom he would nearly injure very seriously on Monday. The possibility of coincidence here seems quite low. Especially when one considers what said victim means to the success of the Wizards' opponent this week.
Highly likely intent. Strike three.
Every aspect of what Brendan Haywood did to LeBron James last night was deplorable. It has absolutely zero place on a basketball court, and the NBA needs to make that as clear as possible. It needs to make it clear through disciplining the culprit at hand. It needs to make it clear for the purpose of deterring those types of behaviors (I refuse to call that a 'play') from being pursued in the future. It needs to take measures to protect its stars (although Haywood's move would have been just as wrong if he did it to the twelfth man), and it needs to take proactive steps to preventing fisticuffs on the floor. Indicating that these types of foolish conflicts are definitively not okay is part of heading in that direction.
The playoffs give us plenty to enjoy. But deliberate cheap shots aren't supposed to be part of the program. And the Association needs to do everything it can to punish those who behave as though otherwise is the case and to prevent more of the same from recurring in the days and weeks to come.