To shush or not to shush a fan fave

Does Stephen Curry’s nar­rowly avoided sus­pen­sion show that there’s bias in the NBA?

Mail & Guardian - - Sport - Re­filoe Sei­boko

Beloved NBA su­per­star and mar­quee player of the Golden State War­riors Stephen Curry is known for his record­break­ing three-point shots and the fact that he can score re­sult-al­ter­ing, clutch, buzzer-beat­ing points and make it look like it’s as easy as his sig­na­ture shoul­der shimmy.

He’s also known for his mouth­piece. Curry chews on it in­ces­santly or lets it hang half­way out of his mouth dur­ing games and even dur­ing penalty free throws. The com­pul­sive act clearly works for him — he’s ranked num­ber four in NBA his­tory for three-point field goal per­cent­age.

Iron­i­cally, it was his mouth­piece that landed him in trou­ble this past week. The two-time Most Valu­able Player (MVP) lost his cool when the of­fi­ci­at­ing ref­eree for the War­riorsMem­phis Grizzlies game didn’t call what he thought was a foul on him and so he tossed his mouth­piece in the di­rec­tion of the ref.

Cue the out­rage.

This act earned Curry a tech­ni­cal foul, an ejec­tion from the game and later a $50000 fine (the high­est amount a player can be fined for this of­fence cur­rently) from the league. More out­rage.

Nat­u­rally, in the spirit of War­rior broth­er­hood, team­mate and NBA Fi­nals MVP Kevin Du­rant was also ejected for talk­ing back at the ref in Curry’s de­fence and an­other team­mate, An­dre Iguo­dala, was also fined $15 000 for yelling.

War­rior Dray­mond Green, no stranger to ejec­tions him­self, man­aged to es­cape trou­ble this time.

It seems what many bas­ket­ball fans and com­men­ta­tors alike took is­sue with is the fact that Curry was not sus­pended for his ac­tions, es­pe­cially con­sid­er­ing this was not his first mouth­piece-throw­ing of­fence.

In the high-pres­sure game six of the 2016 NBA Fi­nals se­ries be­tween Golden State and the Cleve­land Cava­liers, the ref called Curry for foul­ing and he be­came irate and threw his mouth­piece (which hit a fan), earn­ing him a tech­ni­cal foul and an ejec­tion.

In that in­stance, his ac­tions could well have war­ranted a sus­pen­sion, but be­cause of the in­ten­sity of the Fi­nals se­ries, he was not sus­pended. This was a more than rea­son­able de­ci­sion be­cause if he, as the best shooter of his team, was ab­sent from the fi­nal game of the se­ries it would have been a con­tro­versy the NBA would never live it down.

There­fore, an op­por­tune time to dis­ci­pline Curry, many feel, would have been af­ter this déjà vu Mouth­piece­gate mo­ment. Be­cause if the league “let it slide” when he threw his mouth­piece and it hit a fan, and again when he threw it in the di­rec­tion of a ref, then clearly the league is com­mit­ted to cod­dling Curry at all costs.

It’s favouritism, if you will, be­cause he is not only the face and fran­chise player of the War­riors but also — wait for it — of the NBA.

Be­cause heaven for­bid if an­other player — per­haps one who pos­sessed a more “threat­en­ing” stature than Curry’s de­mure frame or one with­out his like­abil­ity — was overly demon­stra­tive to­wards an of­fi­cial. Would they get the same treat­ment?

Let’s look at his­tory. In 1993, NBA cham­pion and All-Star Chicago Bull Scot­tie Pip­pen was called for a dou­ble drib­ble, threw the ball at the ref (in­stead of hand­ing it to him) in a shot that could have hit him and was ejected from the game.

In a more egre­gious in­stance, NBA cham­pion and All-Star Bull Dennis

More re­cently, in 2016, CJ McCol­lum threw a ball at a ref and re­ceived a tech­ni­cal foul and was not sus­pended, but did earn a sus­pen­sion for leav­ing the bench dur­ing an al­ter­ca­tion. Rus­sell West­brook of the Ok­la­homa City Thun­der, ear­lier this year, threw a ball that landed on a ref’s head and got him a tech­ni­cal foul. It was heav­ily de­bated whether the hit was in­ten­tional or not.

Curry main­tains that his in­ci­dent was un­in­ten­tional and oc­curred merely out of frus­tra­tion. “I didn’t throw my mouth­piece at the ref. I got bet­ter aim than that,” he was quoted as say­ing af­ter a re­cent game.

His coach, Steve Kerr, in a sar­cas­tic com­ment, said that per­haps he “should have been sus­pended for eight or 10 games,” Both re­sponses don’t do much to dis­pel crit­ics’ be­lief that the War­riors are the teacher’s pets of the league. Many even be­lieve that the de­ci­sion not to sus­pend Curry re­veals the “docile” char­ac­ter that the NBA likes to see in its play­ers.

Bas­ket­ball is dif­fer­ent to, say, foot­ball in that it only has five play­ers — leav­ing the door wide open for the NBA to be heav­ily driven by star play­ers and, as a re­sult, nar­ra­tives of favouritism.

With that in mind, then, let’s say the NBA did some­what shield Curry by not sus­pend­ing him. Is Curry then still a cry­baby who should have been sat down, or is the league just ex­er­cis­ing its pre­rog­a­tive to pro­tect the dar­ling of the NBA? Maybe it was just a stan­dard de­ci­sion that had noth­ing to do with player dou­ble stan­dards.

Maybe.

“I didn’t throw my mouth­piece at the ref. I got bet­ter aim than that,” Curry was quoted as say­ing af­ter a re­cent game

Baby-faced as­sas­sin: Stephen Curry’s sig­na­ture mouth­piece, which he ob­ses­sively chews on dur­ing games, has now landed him in a spot of trou­ble. Photo: Zhong Zhi/ Getty Images

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