Tuesday, April 24, 2007

The Bad Boys of Sports: A case study examining crisis management for the National Basketball Association

By Mallory Farrington
Comm. 473
April 1, 2007


The National Basketball Association was established in 1946 by the Basketball Association of America and was adopted by the National Basketball League in 1949. It is comprised of 30 teams that adhere to the rules and regulations established by the governing body, USA Basketball. The USAB meets annually to review and amend the current rules. In recent years the NBA has enforced their established rules and regulations much more. Fighting and aggressive behavior toward other basketball players, coaches, and spectators is a growing trend among players. The violence of unsportsmanlike actions has escalated in recent years. While there are conflicts between players, coaches, and fans each year the extremes in which professional athletes go to harm their offenders has increased and the penalties for offenses grow in response.
On December 16, 2006, Carmelo Anthony, a forward with the Denver Nuggets struck Mardy Collins; a guard for the New York Knicks after Collins committed a flagrant foul on Anthony’s teammate J.R. Smith. The ruckus occurred at the conclusion of a game in which the Nuggets were winning. Anthony received a suspension of 15 games. Other players were also suspended for less time totaling 47 games including Anthony’s punishment.
Two years earlier, on November 19, 2004, a more violent brawl occurred at the finish of the Pacers-Pistons game when Indiana Pacers forward, Ron Artest fouled Ben Wallace, a center with the Detroit Pistons. Wallace retaliated by shoving Artest. It incited other players to squabble, meanwhile Ron Artest retreated to the score table and reclined as Wallace is retrained by coaches and players from reaching him. A spectator struck Artest in the face with a beverage in a plastic cup which provoked Artest to move into the stands to attack the fan. Another Pacer, Stephen Jackson and Jermaine O’Neal entered the stands as a melee ensued between the players and fans. Many players and coaches tried to contain their scrapping teammates. Pacers were escorted from the floor amongst a shower of bottles, popcorn, and additional objects thrown by spectators simultaneously jeering the exiting team.
After deliberations with the NBA commissioner David Sterns, handed out suspensions to all players that did not remain seated during the altercation. In total 9 players from both teams were suspended for a total of 146 games with Ron Artest receiving the harshest punishment, a suspension of over 86 games. Some lesser altercations that have occurred in the years before the Pacer-Pistons incident and the Knicks-Nuggets incident are still quite noteworthy. In chronological order infractions include a fight on January 15, 2001, New York Knicks center, Marcus Camby attempted to sucker-punched San Antonio Sun Dennis Ferry when Ferry poked him in the eye. The Knicks coach Jeff Van Gundy maneuvered himself between to the sparing players as more punches were thrown. Van Gundy experienced a laceration from one of Camby’s blows striking him in the head. Camby was suspended for five games and was fined $25,000 and Ferry sat out one game for his part in the commotion.
January 12, 2002, Shaquille O’Neal the L.A. Lakers center received a suspension for hitting Chicago Bulls center, Brad Miller after Miller and his teammate forward Charles Oakley fouled O’Neal at the hoop. O’Neal retaliated by attempting to punch Miller while his back was turned. He struck him once when Miller fell to the ground and a brawl began. O’Neal was eventually restrained and eventually suspended by the league from playing 3 games.
In December 2002, Sacramento Chris Mills and Bonzi Wells, a Portland Trail Blazer, engaged in an altercation at the end of their game. As the clash escalated the visiting Blazers were bombarded with various debris heaved from the stands. Gum struck Blazers Rasheed Wallace who attempted to attack the assailant. Both teams departed the arena, but this did not stop Chris Mills from attempting to enter the opposing team’s locker room to continue the argument with Wells. He later moved his car to block the Blazer’s bus and provoked Wells again. Mills and Wells were suspended three and two game respectively. Wallace was fined $15,000 for his involvement.
In January 2005, Minnesota Timber wolf Michael Olowokandi and Denver Nugget forward-center Nene. After Olowokandi contacted Nene in the attempt to make a shot, Nene retaliated by head-butting the Timber wolf. Olowokandi started to verbally confront Nene and eventually shoved him in his face. Blows were thrown by both player and Olowokandi was struck in the head before they were separated. Both were ejected from the game and suspended four games.
In 2006, Antonio Davis, a New York Knicks forward, received a five game suspension for moving into the stands at a January 19th game when he believed his wife was involved in a confrontation with another spectator.


The National Basketball Association had to respond strongly to these offenses and others deemed less hostile. After the Pacers-Pistons brawl where even players not involved in fighting were penalized for not keeping their seats, the NBA doled out more punishments than in the years prior. Though some of the scuffles are perhaps less serious than earlier NBA conflicts the behavior of players in all sports has impacted the NBA’s hold on their fan base of families. After the Pacer-Pistons melee, many critics and fans alike were predicting the decline in ticket sales of basketball games. The fear that another altercation may breakout and the possibility that spectators could inadvertently become a victims of random outburst violence by a player was a real risk.
The NBA officials had the agenda of making professional basketball the family entertainment it had been for decades. They had to bring sportsmanlike conduct back to the game and demonstrate a fair and strict hand to the league and the public. Interactions between players and spectators observing the game in the stands had appeared to break the invisible barrier between the players as entertainers. When real people are challenged the barrier of fantasy and reality is demolished. NBA had to backtrack and appeal to people by making the players more appealing.
It is impossible to examine the issue of the public’s restlessness with professional basketball players without discussing demographics for the league. The league is 80% African-American and the main fan base is Caucasian which makes connections among the groups difficult. Players appeared to be unappreciative, petulant children who have received great fame and wealth for playing basketball on television. Fans grew tired of the image of the struggling basketball player and wanted the sport to just be about the game again. NBA needed to assure fans that the glory of the NBA is still present, but just shrouded in the cloak of scandal. Fans also needed to know that the NBA officials were still in charge, though it may seem as players are always getting their way in reference to compensation and team strategy. Coaches were no longer the heart of the team; instead the highest paid player has the clout to order around other players, coaches, referees, and team owners.
The NBA would in an effect mold the players’ images to be model citizens committed to making society better since with all the privilege they have received. NBA officials also had to distinguish itself from competing sports such as Major League Baseball, the National Football League, and the National Hockey League with similar fan bases. All conferences seemed to be ensconced with their own scandals like steroid usage and criminal charges. Unlike MLB, the NBA did not want the government meddling in issues within its organization.
NBA had to make its mission statement further describe its commitment to the community and less about making more money. They also had to combat the increased aggressiveness of spectators also known as hooliganism. It is often associated with obsessed European soccer fans, but is present in most sports worldwide. Fanatical fans will taunt opposing teams’ fans and players which fosters an environment of stress and contention amongst event participants. Players who feel they are being treated unfairly can not discern whether comments or actions are an affront to them personally or to the “enemy,” the opposing team. Fans should understand their own contribution to the atmosphere of NBA games and behave responsibly while having safe fun. While showing team spirit is the purpose of cheering, the object is to boost their favorite team’s morale, not degraded an opposing team.


The NBA’s main response to violence by players is suspension. It is their initial step to reviving the NBA’s wholesome image. With regards to the incidents, the severity of the violence and standards for punishment has made governing the league more efficient. There is a process for appeals after suspension periods exceeding 12 games and a mandatory suspension for 16 technical fouls during a season. Beyond 16 fouls, an offender will be suspended one game for each additional technical foul that occurs. However, penalties are needed in the advent of unsportsmanlike conduct occurring, in an effort to stem further altercations; referees are asked to rule as fairly as possible. Ultimately, their calls will result in a technical foul being added to a player’s stats or ejection from a game if it is necessary.
In response to the Pacer-Pistons clash, the NBA has established a fan’s code of conduct that is posted on the NBA’s website. The NBA commissioner David Stern and the Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations, Stu Jackson, are integral with handling media onslaught after unsportsmanlike conduct arises. On the NBA website, Jackson discusses their new policy of “respect for the game” in which they seek to curtail complaining done by players in the heat of play. It establishes that a player can confront a referee about calls as long as it is done respectfully without aggressive gestures and if disputes are communicated calmly. They have established a fan code of conduct which includes the experience guests are promised on behave of the basketball players and maintains the type of behavior and actions that spectators are allowed to engage in while attending a NBA game.
The NBA has just commissioned their global initiative NBA Cares in October 2005. In partnership with many philanthropies, the NBA employs league players to participate in the communities they play for. Their goal is to contribute close to $100 million to charity, donate one million hours of volunteer assistance, and build over 100 places for students to learn and play.
Recently, NBA acted swiftly to hateful comments made by former NBA star Tim Hardaway in reference to book released by another former NBA player, John Amaechi, discussing how it was to be gay and “in the closet” during his career. Hardaway, was to appear at the NBA All-star Weekend, but was barred from attending by Stern. By distancing themselves from Hardaway quickly, the League received praise from many organizations in support of Lesbian and Gay issues.


The NBA has done a sound job repairing the image of being a league of thugs and reflecting the NBA as a coalition of skilled, talented athletes with a connection to their fans. In the inauguration of the NBA, players found greater satisfaction of the victory on the scoreboard. To have the opportunity to match one’s skills against each other was a tangible product of the game. Fans could attend games and look forward to watching basketball greats battle on the court and let the NBA’s prior troubles go.
The Knicks-Nuggets brawl has set the NBA back in its effort to being drama-free. It made a small mark on the NBA’s now cleaner record, but thankfully the media has already moved on to more salacious stories in the sports world.
The NBA’s overall reaction to the indiscretions of league players was mild but now shows the League’s commitment to becoming a better league. Keith Phillips, Media Relations Coordinator for the Norfolk Admirals Professional Hockey Club agreed. “In Hockey, it wouldn’t be any better. Players take hits much worse than they dish out in the NBA and get maybe 5 minutes in the box during a game.” Players are only allowed to offend as much as the climate of fan sentiment permits. “Recently, not much is expected of players anymore in many sports. They are pros because [the league] says they are, but obviously their behavior says something different.”
The NBA maintains a policy of responding to problems as they occur, while amending rules to cease fighting. If fighting is truly undesirable and not permitted than being suspended from a few games is not enough, though they do not get paid for missed games. Fines do not come close to the sum many players receive per game. Basketball is taking on an aura of being a game of the elite, much different from the street basketball where many players got their start. The NBA needs to do much to catch up on the discipline that has waned over the years. Sponsoring programs for players with updated information on acceptable game behavior should be incorporated. The main issue is that players do not seem understand the gravity of their actions as seriously as audiences do.
With each altercation the media dredges up file footage of basketball players fighting and beating up each other and fans. It is scary to the average person and to those with high moral standards it is intolerable. NBA has to be an example of an organization leading society and not scurrying to catch up with the status quo.


Chris said...

David Stern had no choice but to come down hard on the NBA in response to the brawl between the Detroit Pistons & Indiana Pacers on November 19, 2004 at The Palace of Auburn Hills. It was a scary situation; one in which a fan or player could have been injured. Bottles and chairs were flying, punches were thrown, luckily no children were hit with the various amounts of debris hurled in and around the crowd.
After witnessing the shocking incident I have to agree with the National Basketball Associations decision to punish both players and fans. The mandating of increased security between athletes and spectators, banning the sale of alcohol after the third quarter and issuing lengthy suspensions for 9 players involved in the ruckus was a correct decision. Fighting between fans and players is absolutely unacceptable and David Stern sent a clear message that such conduct will not be tolerated.
The Pistons, Pacers disturbance is without a doubt one of the ugliest events in professional sports history. According to Sports Nation, a poll was taken resulting in 83% of fans criticizing the fight as the worst incident of fan on player violence they had ever seen. An ESPN poll showed similar results. Radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh described the incident as, “gang behavior on parade, minus the guns.”
Professional basketball had suffered a serious blow to it’s image as a source of clean family entertainment. Many perdicted a decline in ticket sales by fans who feared being caught inadvertently in a another random outburst of violence by players.
A public relations campaign was needed to restore the image of good sportsmanlike conduct in the NBA while also demonstrating to the public a respect for family values. It also became important to make the players appealing again. By that I mean as spectators we tend to idolize entertainers, bestowing on them almost mythical God like status in society. However the Pacers, Piston melee was a snap back to reality. The fantasy barrier had been shattered once players began fighting with fans. The result was Ron Artest and Rasheed Wallace were now seen as antiheros as opposed to legends.
For the NBA it was critical to let fans know that the league and officials were still in charge and that the players were model citizens committed to making society better while emphasizing its commitment to family and community. The spot light had to be taken off 100 million dollar unappreciative players who act like children. The fans had grown tired of it.
On the same token it was important for fans to accept some responsibility and understand their own contribution to the atmosphere at NBA games. Fans must also behave responsibly while enjoying the event. Showing team spirit is one thing, however the objective is to boost their favorite team’s morale, not degraded and antagonize the opposing team.
I fully support the NBA’s response to violence by suspending players from games and in some cases suspending them the entire season. I would take it a step farther and recommend that the NBA set a high minimum dollar amount that fines players for misconduct both on and off the court while the seasons in session plus an automatic season suspension for certain types of misconduct that occurs during game time. This deterrent will prevent random violence from occurring while serving to remind players that playing for the NBA is a privilege that at once can be rescinded. The teams must understand they are not entitled to play for the National Basketball Association but instead are granted entry on a “good behavior” contingency basis only.
Recommend to David Stern and the NBA to commission a program that shows players care about their communities and those less fortunate. Have them partner with philanthropies and charities to raise money for a cause, or maybe volunteer their time to assist and rebuild improvised communities so students can learn and play.
Of utmost importance the NBA must distance itself from anything deemed negative, including allegations of racism and discrimination. Former NBA star Tim Hardaway once made reference to a book released by another former NBA player, John Amaechi. In the book Mr. Amaechi discussed what it felt like to be gay and “in the closet” during his basketball career. Tim Hardaway, who was to appear at the NBA All-star Weekend event, was barred from attending it by David Stern. This was a smart move on Sterns part. By distancing the NBA from Hardaway, the League received high marks from many organizations including the GLBT who support the fight for Gay and Lesbian causes. The NBA had appeased one of its publics.
Finally, the NBA has done a good job of repairing its image before the world. Though the league is still know for it’s million dollar athletes and their bevy of product endorsements, the thuggish reputation it earned by brawling with fans has diminished since the implementation of the dress code and new policy initiatives. To maintain discipline on the court the NBA must continue to demand players refrain from inappropriate behavior and severely punish those who engage in it. High fines and game suspensions are the way to respond to problems should they occur, while simultaneously promoting the NBA as a league of gentlemen playing professional sports.

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