There is a famous story about the late former Nets forward Armen Gilliam racing into the Miami Heat locker room to confront the late, great Dwayne “Pearl” Washington.
More recently, Carmelo Anthony made his way to the loading dock at Madison Square Garden to settle a score with Kevin Garnett in front of the Boston Celtics team bus.
All these years later, we sit back and laugh at how silly it was because, quite frankly, no one was seriously injured. There were fines and suspensions but no injuries. Sure, the aggressors, in this case Gilliam and Carmelo, were out of order but a potentially dangerous situation was diffused and the league moved on to the next controversy.
With that in mind, sooner than later we’ll all look back at what transpired late Monday inside Staples Center in Los Angeles and laugh at the absurdity of the entire scene. But that day is not now.
No, that potentially dangerous confrontation which needed LAPD to break up is a bad optic for the NBA, the Houston Rockets and Chris Paul, who just happens to be the President of the Players Association. In that role, Paul serves to fight for his players. Late Monday, Paul, according to various reports, may have wanted a piece of his two former teammates, Blake Griffin and Austin Rivers.
Considering Paul’s status and stature in the league it’s hard to believe that being inside the Clippers locker room with teammates James Harden, Trevor Ariza and Gerald Green was a good idea. Clippers officials were said to be yelling that the four Rockets had “breached” the locker room.
Maybe Paul will be exonerated. There are conflicting accounts of what transpired. One source says that Ariza was the aggressor and that Paul and Harden acted more as peacemakers. Ultimately, that is up to the league to decide.
Still, if it were a group of young players, for example the Sixers Ben Simmons, Joel Embiid and Dario Saric, had acted the same way they would have been admonished – and suspended – for not understanding the protocol of the NBA. The league gives its teams 48 minutes a game to demonstrate their manhood. Once the buzzer sounds, the fight is over.
Paul, Harden, Ariza and Green know better. They’ve been around a long time. The scene late Monday was shocking and must be dealt with appropriately. That means NBA commissioner Adam Silver, who has a good relationship with Paul, needs to make an example out of the four players. The bare minimum would be fines and one-game suspension.
Coincidentally, the Rockets next game against the Minnesota Timberwolves is on TNT and the last thing the league wants to do is hurt a nationally televised game. But rules are rules.
Chris Paul happens to be a thoughtful, competitive player who you’d want on your side. Monday was an emotional night for him; his first game back in Staples Center since being traded to the Rockets over the summer. The game was contentious and included a lot of talking between Paul and Griffin, who are anything but the best of friends. There is nothing wrong with that but the nonsense should stop when the game does.
Ariza exchanged heated words with Rivers, the son of Clipper head coach Doc Rivers who was inactive but was on the bench and never stopped running his mouth. (The NBA should seriously consider not allowing inactive players to sit on the bench because for whatever reason some think their role is to be agitator. Stay in the locker room or get a seat in a luxury suite. Only uniformed personal should sit on the bench. But that’s a story for another day.)
Paul’s alleged involvement is interesting because he has been outspoken about the referees this season more than ever. In fact, Michelle Roberts, the executive director of the Players Association, is hoping to arrange a meeting between several players and referees next month in Los Angeles during All-Star Weekend.
Paul will likely be included in that meeting. The players think there is a communication breakdown between today’s refs and the players. Carmelo and Draymond Green have made similar comments. The referees believe they are merely upholding the rules of the game. It’s nothing personal. Part of their job is player safety but their jurisdiction ends once the players enter the locker room. At that point common sense takes over or at least it should.
Paul knows this and one day he’ll laugh about he and his teammates taking a side entrance to breach the Clippers locker room. It will become part of NBA lore. The moment certainly adds to the drama of a league that thrives on it.
But those laughs will come only after Paul and his teammates are punished.