All-Sanctioned Team: Players, coaches and a mascot that drew David Stern’s ire
“The Point Forward All-Stars” will have a new theme each week centered on a single shared trait that brings together the team members. This week, with NBA commissioner David Stern set to step down on after 30 years on the job this Saturday, we look back at some of the most memorable fines and suspensions from his tenure.
Previously: The All-Grateful Team | The East’s All-Letdown Team | The All-Atrocious Team | The All-Ignored Team | The All-Stocking Stuffer Team | The All-Recalibration Team | The All-Payday Team | The All-Gridiron Team
The All-Sanctioned Team
David Stern will be remembered for his many business virtues — he was a shrewd-negotiating, global-thinking marketing visionary — but, like any commissioner, he was also his league’s Disciplinarian-in-chief. Blessed with the perfect surname for that aspect of his job, Stern wasn’t afraid to be the bad guy, and indeed he often seemed to relish the role, and the all-powerful image his sanctions helped cultivate.
Over the years, Stern fined and suspended players for all sorts of things: questioning the officials, failing drug tests, getting into fights on the court, posting Twitter messages during games, and, during the last two seasons, flopping. Owners, coaches, and entire organizations couldn’t escape his iron first, either.
As Stern prepares to pass the torch, and the gavel, to deputy commissioner Adam Silver on Saturday, here’s a rundown of the longtime commissioner’s greatest hits to opposing pocketbooks, with a primary focus on hijinks from the last decade.
(Many thanks to the NBA fines and suspensions database at Eskimo.com for its assistance.)
Owner: Mark Cuban, Mavericks
“David Stern’s bad side” has always had a “wrong side of the tracks” meets “Bermuda Triangle” vibe to it: most everyone tries as hard as humanly possible to stay away from it, lest they disappear forever. Not billionaire Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, though, who took over in Dallas in 2000 and promptly set up a homestead ranch in Stern’s dog house. Cuban has been fined at least $1.9 million for at least 20 infractions since taking over the Mavericks, and no one has come close to taking as much joy in representing the anti-establishment to Stern’s establishment over the last decade. Earlier this month, Cuban, who has long crusaded against the league’s officials and officiating practices and policies, intentionally drew a $100,000 finefor walking onto the court to dispute a controversial endgame sequence that went against Dallas. It was his way of saying goodbye to Stern.
“I couldn’t let the [commissioner] go without a proper farewell,” Cuban wrote on Twitter, once the press release bearing Stern’s name rolled in. “It’s been a fun 14 years of trying to create change and donating to the [doughnut] fund!”
Cuban’s list of infractions is both extraordinarily long and extraordinarily funny, and it includes:
• $100,000 for sitting on the baseline during a 2001 game. (“They said it wasn’t fitting for an owner to sit there,” Cuban replied. “Ridiculous.”)
• $250,000 in 2001 for having his arena’s JumboTron display a freeze frame image of a late-game goaltending by Detroit that wasn’t called and encouraging media members to take pictures of it. (“The refs were pitiful and I don’t care if I get fined,” Cuban said, before adding that referee Tommy Nunez tried to “take over the game” and that the missed call was “ridiculous.”)
• $100,000 for flashing the choking sign at officials in 2001.
• $500,000 for a vicious criticism of then-head of officials Ed Rush in 2002. (“Ed Rush might have been a great ref, but I wouldn’t hire him to manage a Dairy Queen,” Cuban said.)
• $10,000 for encouraging a player to retaliate against Bruce Bowen after the Spurs forward elbowed Michael Finley. (“I told one of our guys when you get up close, slap the ball right into his face and I’ll pay the fine, Cuban declared.)
• $100,000 for blogging about how to improve the officiating during the playoffs.
• $25,000 for yelling at J.R. Smith for throwing an elbow in 2009. (Cuban later wrote to Smith on his blog: “In the spirit of the joy of my getting fined and your not getting the tech, have the Nuggets PR folks contact the Mavs PR folks and I will donate [$25,000] to the charity of your choice.”)
• $100,000 for tampering by discussing LeBron James prior to the 2010 free agency period.
The most indelible image from the Stern vs. Cuban feud came after Game 5 of the 2006 Finals against the Heat, when Cuban went on to the court to protest the officials. The Miami Herald reported that Cuban yelled “Your league is rigged!” at Stern, but both parties vehemently denied that (Cuban’s reaction: “Apparently this ‘reporter’ [writer Greg Cote] has written he has several ‘sources.’ Well they must be the same sources the tabloids use to find two-headed [babies] and aliens, because it didn’t happen”). Regardless, Cuban was fined $250,000 for yelling at an official, screaming in the direction of Stern and using a profanity during his post-game interview. Stern also scolded Cuban’s “loss of self control” and for “[setting] a bad tone” while asserting that his behavior was “not healthy for either him or the game” and was a distraction to his players.
In the years following the Mavericks’ 2006 Finals loss, Cuban’s fines have generally been smaller and less frequent, but his unhappiness with the state of the league’s officiating remains, even after he won his first title in 2011. If the Stern/Cuban relationship hasn’t quite produced a true reform story, it has been a lesson that everything in the NBA, even the loss of money, has marketing and public relations potential.
“I think it’s great,” Cuban, who regularly matched his fines with charitable donations, said of Stern’s sanctions in 2001. “There is no way we could spend $250,000 to get this type of promotion for the Mavs. The articles will be mostly the same: ‘Mark Cuban was fined again, crazy guy, but the Mavs are playing well and are in the playoff hunt.’ And tons of people will buy Mavs merchandise and more will come to the games — just like the last time I was fined.”
Coach: Gregg Popovich, Spurs
Unlike Cuban, who stands without peer among the ownership ranks when it comes to fines, there are a number of worthy candidates for the All-Sanctioned Team’s coaching spot.
Let’s start with perhaps the two most amusing: the Van Gundy brothers. Both had memorable run-ins with Stern over treatment of their respective centers.
Back in 2005, Jeff Van Gundy, then coaching the Rockets, drew a $100,000 fine from Stern for telling reporters that a referee had called to inform him that the officials were targeting Yao Ming during a playoff series against the Mavericks because Cuban had complained so much. In addition to the six-figure fine, Stern stated that Van Gundy was “not going to continue in this league” if he continued to make similar comments.
History repeated itself in 2011 when Stan Van Gundy, then coaching the Magic, was fined $35,000 for saying referees were targeting Dwight Howard, before he took a personal shot at the commissioner a few months later. “This is the system David Stern and his minions like,” Van Gundy said. “I certainly can’t have an opinion because David Stern, like a lot of leaders we’ve seen in this world lately, don’t really tolerate other people’s opinion or free speech or anything. So I’m not really allowed to have an opinion.” The comments were made during the so-called “Arab Spring,” when a number of revolutions and protests were going on in the Middle East and North Africa.
Those comments somehow didn’t draw a fine, but Stern did say that Magic management needed to “rein in [Van Gundy's] aberrant behavior,” that Van Gundy seemed to be “fraying,” and that “we’re not going to be hearing from [Van Gundy] for the rest of the season.” Last year, Van Gundy asserted that Stern blocked him from getting a commentating job at ESPN: “There’s no question the comments I’ve made about David Stern kept them from hiring me. I said things that pissed him off.”
So, if you’re keeping track, that’s one brother who was threatened by Stern with a ban from the league and another brother who believes his job prospects were influenced, either directly or indirectly, by Stern.
And yet neither Jeff Van Gundy nor Stan Van Gundy takes home top honors here thanks to an unforgettable confrontation between Stern and Gregg Popovich last season. When San Antonio’s Hall of Fame coach elected to rest four key players during a nationally-televised game against Miami — going so far as to send them home to Texas early — Stern responded immediately and with force, calling the decision “unacceptable,” promising “substantial sanctions” and following through with a monster $250,000 fine for the Spurs.
That fine set off national debates about the value of strategic resting, what should take precedent when a coach’s priorities conflict with those of the league office, and the role that the league’s television contracts and advertising partners played in guiding the commissioner’s decision. Those “substantial sanctions” also drew questions because Silver had previously said that strategic resting was “within the discretion of the teams,” because Popovich had previously rested players without drawing any fine, and because it was a particularly logical time schedule-wise to rest players (San Antonio was at the end of a long road trip with a key divisional game coming up).
Ultimately, Stern justified his fine by arguing that the Spurs “did a disservice to the league and its fans” and acted “contrary to the best interests of the NBA” because they hadn’t given adequate notice of their plans, because it was their only regular season visit to Miami, and because Danny Green, who was 25 at the time, didn’t need to rest for strategic purposes. “It was a game that was being played [by Popovich]. I know it, you know it and he knows it,” Stern said, once the dust settled.
The two men appear to have reached a compromise: Popovich continues to rest his key players, even for nationally-televised games, but the Spurs gave the league extra notice when they did so earlier this season. Still, the Popovich episode stands as a low moment for Stern because it came off as impulsive, contradictory, lacking in precedent and overly focused on the small picture. San Antonio’s unique ability to extend the career arcs of its stars has paid off in countless playoff victories, fantastic moments, and one of the greatest Finals of all time (2013). Their outside-the-box philosophy should stand as a template for the other 29 teams, not as a source for a massive penalty.
On a lighter note, Stern’s NBA also fined Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle $35,000 for kicking a basketball into the baseline stands in 2012. Check out his form:
And on one of the lightest disciplinary notes in league history, the NBA fined Nets coach Jason Kidd $50,000 for instructing his player to “hit me” so that he would spill soda on the court, thereby stopping the game so he could diagram a last-minute play.
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.
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.
Gilbert Arenas, Wizards
Many of the fines and suspensions discussed herein have concerned matters of image or perception. But when a card game dispute between Gilbert Arenas and Javaris Crittenton morphed into a locker room incident involving firearms, Stern was faced with a serious matter of player safety.
The whole affair seemed unbelievable as it unfolded and it seems even more ludicrous with four years of perspective. The story goes that Arenas brought multiple unloaded guns into the Wizards’ locker room at the Verizon Center in December 2009, placing them near Crittenton’s locker and telling him to “pick one.” He did so after Crittenton allegedly said that he would “shoot Arenas in his surgically repaired knee,” according to the paper. Crittenton allegedly responded to the note by drawing his own weapon and loading it in a joke-y manner.
The locker room exchange leaked out in bits and pieces over the next week, and Stern waited to assess his punishment until the legal investigations could occur. Arenas pleaded guilty to a felony gun charge and was given two years of probation; Crittenton also pleaded guilty and was given a year of probation on a misdemeanor charge. After those pleas came down, Stern suspended both players for the rest of the 2009-2010 season.
“The possession of firearms by an NBA player in an NBA arena is a matter of the utmost concern to us,” Stern said in a statement. “Although it is clear that the actions of Mr. Arenas will ultimately result in a substantial suspension, and perhaps worse, his ongoing conduct has led me to conclude that he is not currently fit to take the court in an NBA game.”
Arenas was on the books that season for $16.2 million, and his suspension without pay cost him a significant portion of that salary. The incident marked, for all intents and purposes, the end of Arenas’s career. He was later reinstated for the 2010-11 season, traded to the Magic in 2010 and then released by the club using the amnesty clause in 2011. The three-time All-Star guard then signed with the Grizzlies for the 2011-12 season, but he played sparingly and hasn’t suited up in an NBA game since the 2012 playoffs. Along the way, he drew a fine from the NBA for inappropriate Twitter posts and from the Wizards for faking an injury so that Nick Young could start.
Crittenton’s life, meanwhile has spiraled totally out of control. After stints in China and the D-League, the 26-year-old guard has been indicted on a murder charge in relation to a 2011 shooting in Georgia and he was recently arrested for allegedly trying to transport 900 pounds of cocaine.
A post-script from the Arenas/Crittenton gun incident: Young, Randy Foye, Andray Blatche and JaVale McGee were each fined $10,000 by the Wizards in January for participating in a team huddle in which Arenas made light of his legal troubles by flashing “finger guns,” seen above.
It seems that Arenas and Crittenton stand apart from many of the names on this list because they’ve failed to write productive next chapters after their misadventures. That’s particularly lamentable for Arenas, who had been a fan favorite by establishing himself as one of the league’s goofiest personalities. His silver lining? He did clear more than $140 million in salary, excluding fines/suspensions, over his 12-year career.
Mascot: Jazz Bear
Colleagues have painted Stern as a man whose fingerprints could be found on all aspects of the NBA’s growth. His fines were similarly far-reaching. In addition to fining teams, owners, coaches and players, Stern’s NBA also issued a $15,000 fine to the Jazz in response to a skit performed by their mascot, Jazz Bear.
A fine for a motorcycle-riding, fun-loving, hairy beast? What? How? Why?
Well, Hall of Fame forward Karl Malone left the Jazz for the Lakers in 2003 after 18 seasons. The Mailman’s ring-chasing made him the subject of an in-game skit during a 2004 game between the Jazz and Lakers at the Delta Center. The Associated Press sets the scene:
NBA vice president Stu Jackson levied the fine, issuing a two-paragraph statement Friday saying the Jazz were penalized for “performing a mascot skit that ridiculed opposing players.”
During a timeout last Saturday, Jazz mascot “Bear” answered a fake call that was broadcast over the loudspeakers. The caller imitated Malone’s voice and identified himself as “Mail,” saying he wanted to come “home,” L.A. fans were “mean” to him and the Lakers don’t pass him the ball. The call ended with the impersonated voice saying, “I guess it could be worse. I could be Ko…,” stopping short of saying Kobe. Bryant had spent the previous day in Colorado, where he’s facing trial on a sexual assault charge.
The skit continued during a later timeout, this time with Jazz owner Larry Miller — sitting courtside — accepting a call from the Malone impersonator, hanging up and throwing the phone to the floor.
Malone, who wasn’t at the game, later called the skit “pathetic” and “no class.” The Jazz eventually apologized to the Lakers, and rightfully so given the sensitive nature of Bryant’s legal troubles, which clearly shouldn’t have been a laughing matter.
Say whatever you like about Stern’s penchant for punishment, but he just might be the only person in pro sports history to make fining a mascot look like a dignified and noble act.
Now that’s a Midas touch.