By Jason Wojciechowski on April 22, 2008 at 2:49 AM
Look, anyone who knows me knows how I feel about LeBron James. He's a giant baby, a ballhog, utterly full of himself, and likely to have a Dale Murphy-style decline starting in about six years when his body gives out and his basketball skills have atrophied from overreliance on his physical tools. This bile on my part likely colors my views of anything LeBron-related. Still, I have to comment on the Brendan Haywood flagrant two in Game 2 tonight.
First, respek to Reggie Miller for calling it like it is when he wondered whether that would have been the same call if the foulee had been Delonte West instead of LeBron James. There was great video of Mike Brown, right on top of the play, screaming, "That's bullshit!" about the Haywood push. And Brown's right, it was bullshit. It's not part of the game to give a guy a push in the ribs while he's in the air. But you know what? Miller's right, too. You have to seriously question whether it's an ejection if that's someone else getting pushed. I'm not questioning whether this was a flagrant or just a normal foul. It was clearly a flagrant. The question is the distinction between a one and a two.
Remember the other flagrant foul, earlier in the game? Anderson Varejao took a full windup swat right through Andray Blatche's head. What's the call? Flagrant one. What's more likely to actually cause someone an injury? A hit to the head or a push while a guy's in the air? Guys get knocked out of the air all the time, don't they? It usually happens through body blows while a guy is going for the ball, but the point remains: people go to the ground, and people go to the ground hard, and people fly into the cameras all game, every game. But getting hit in the head? That's concussions, lost teeth, or T.J. Ford-style crazy nerve injuries. So why was Varejao a flagrant one, uncontroversially, and Haywood a two? I just don't see the difference.
This leads to a larger issue. A major problem with the way games are refereed is that the refs pay too much attention to outputs instead of inputs. Haywood's foul looked bad, but a big part of the reason why is because of LeBron's athleticism: James gets so high in the air and with such momentum that when he gets knocked off, he goes sprawling. It also looks worse to get knocked into the cameras than it does to just get knocked down in the middle of the floor, even if you fall the same way. I think the referees responded to that, and it's not uncommon. It's the same problem as Shaquille O'Neal has complained about for years: he gets hit harder than anyone else in the game, but the referees miss calls because he's just powering right through the hits.
I want to add that I'm not one of these people who wants to go back to the clutching, grabbing, punching, scratching days of yore in basketball. I don't lament the toning down of the not-really-basketball physical aspects. But I do want some measure of consistency in refereeing. I want LeBron to get hit with a taunting technical when he does DeShawn Stevenson's "hand on the face" move to DeShawn Stevenson (Stevenson's version of the gesture isn't directed at anyone). I want Zydrunas Ilgauskas to get hit with a technical when he comes running into a scrum from ten feet away, because you gave Antawn Jamison a tech for doing exactly that on the other side. Is this really so much to ask?