All-Sanctioned Team: Players, coaches and a mascot that drew David Stern’s ire
Rasheed Wallace, Pistons
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 get ejected for screaming “Ball don’t lie!” 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 allegedly “screamed obscenities” at Donaghy.
“He accosted a referee and threatened him,” Jackson told reporters. “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?
Kobe Bryant, Lakers
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 in a New York Times profile, 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 a Sports Illustrated cover story, 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 using the phrase “no homo” 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, who would say 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.