All-Sanctioned Team: Players, coaches and a mascot that drew David Stern’s ire
The Players: Metta World Peace, Knicks
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 Artest… well, 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 call the raffle, 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 thanked Stern for letting him remain in the league following the 2004 brawl. When he was asked by NBA.com about the fallout from the brawl this week, World Peace said simply: “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 delivered a vicious elbow to James Harden in 2012, 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, Knicks
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 blasts a hotel room photo 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 making “hostile” tweets towards another player in 2013 and fined for repeatedly trying to until his opponents’ shoelaces during games in 2014. Additionally, Smith was thought to be using gang-related language on Twitter in 2009, he was accused by the singer Rihanna on Instagram of being “desert thirsty” towards women and “hungover from clubbing every night” during the 2013 playoffs, and he tweeted about “betrayal” 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.