MAJOR POINT: When Emotions Run High

Eric Menk on Oct 26, 2018 07:23 AM
MAJOR POINT: When Emotions Run High
Houston Rockets' Chris Paul, second from left, is held back by Los Angeles Lakers' LeBron James, left, as Paul fights with Lakers' Rajon Rondo, center obscured, during the second half of an NBA basketball game Saturday, Oct. 20, 2018, in Los Angeles. The Rockets won, 124-115. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

Last week the 2018-19 NBA season kicked off with a good amount of excitement. Every year brings intrigue and the feeling of hope for everybody that follows the NBA. This year is no exception. The NBA has done an excellent job of building their brand into a 10-month media frenzy every year. With the NBA Draft, Summer League & free agency, only August and September is where the NBA takes a back seat to other sports in sports media headlines. So with the league's popularity and talent level at an all-time high, the NBA’s 2018-19 season began.

This year has even more intrigue than usual because LeBron James has moved to the Los Angeles Lakers. LeBron James is well….. LeBron James. He’s one of the greatest athletes/ basketball players to ever pick up a basketball. Not only is his greatness undeniable, but he’s also a media darling who’s dealt with the intense scrutiny of the media since he graced the cover of Sports Illustrated at 15 years old. LeBron James moves the NBA narrative. So do the Los Angeles Lakers. Despite being awful and irrelevant for the last six seasons (the 2013 season where they were the 7th seed in the West and were swept in the 1st round doesn’t count as relevant), they remain the league’s most popular franchise, especially here in the Philippines. Laker fans around the world rejoiced as their storied franchise has joined forces with the global icon and brand that is LeBron James. This is a dream come true for Lakers fans and NBA fans alike.

Last weekend, the Lakers had their home opener in their second game of the season as they hosted the Houston Rockets. Like the Lakers, the Rockets had lost their first game.

So, while it is a 82-game season and this was just the second game of the season for both teams, it was an important one for a few reasons. First, it was LeBron James’ first regular season game at the Staples Center as a Laker. Second, both teams are trying to figure out the best way to navigate through their season. Third, both teams were looking for their first win and fourth, every game counts in the playoff race in the west, where last year teams seeded 3-8 were separated by only 2 games. This was also a weekend game on live national television. Both teams were coming to play.

And play they did, through three and a half quarters we had a one-point game. And then it happened. By now, I’m sure you’ve seen the replay from every angle, but I’ll give you the short version in case you missed it.

After being called for a foul, for reasons still unknown, Brandon Ingram pushes James Harden. Ingram, then aggressively has words with the first official on the scene. After being restrained by Lance Stephenson of all people, there is a commotion with Chris Paul and Rajon Rondo and PUNCHES ARE THROWN! Brandon Ingram then reappears in said commotion and throws a punch of his own in the direction of Chris Paul and P.J. Tucker. Cooler heads finally prevail as Chris Paul is escorted away by fellow banana boat teammate, but Los Angeles Laker, LeBron James. Once over by media row, Paul then claims for all of the media to hear, that Rondo spit on him.

Since then, it has been widely covered and debated on whether or not Rondo spit on Paul and if it was intentional or not. Clearly, saliva landed on Paul’s face. Did Rondo try to blow in Paul’s face or say something and saliva accidentally came out of his mouth? (Hey Rondo, say it, don’t spray it!) Did he try to sneak in a quick spit hoping nobody would see it? Eric Gordon and Carmelo Anthony are standing right there and the only one that reacts is Paul because he felt the saliva and there was so little of it that Gordon and Anthony didn’t see it. Did whatever Rondo did warrant the eye gouge and face mush reaction from Paul? Did Paul’s reaction warrant Rondo’s reaction which was committing to punches? What the hell was going on with Brandon Ingram?!?

Lost in SpitGate was the actual game it happened in. The Rockets were up, 109-108, with 4:13 to go in the fourth when SpitGate took place. After the incident, the Rockets extended their lead and won 124-115 to spoil LeBron James’ home debut and keep the Lakers winless. The next day the NBA handed down their sanctions and suspended Ingram for four games, Rondo for three games and Paul for two games. I’m sure now, both teams wish this incident never happened. Could it have been avoided? Of course, it could have been and should have been avoided.

Here in the Philippines, I’ve witnessed numerous brush ups and altercations at almost every level. I’ve seen brawls in tune-up games at the NCAA, UAAP, and PBA. I’ve seen fights in regular season NCAA, UAAP & PBA games. I’ve seen players go into the stands to attack fans in the PBA. I’ve even seen and heard of players getting spit on and I can assure you it was much worse than what Chris Paul received from Rondo. You only have to look at the recent Gilas-Australia basketbrawl incident to see how quickly things can escalate in a competitive basketball game.

As unfortunate and regrettable as these incidents have been, they do happen. The average person on the street can have a hard time controlling their emotions when called a name. Now throw someone into a competitive environment where there is stress, pressure and fatigue, and that makes it even more difficult to regulate ones emotions. If a basketball player makes it to the collegiate, professional or international level that means they are exceptional at what they do. To get to that level, players have to dedicate a great deal of their life to basketball. Being a basketball player and a good one becomes a large part of one’s personality at those levels. Any attack or perceived attack on that becomes personal. Players are expected to be as competitive as possible, but to not play angry. There sometimes is a blurred line between playing tough, which is expected and actually fighting, which is against the rules. All of this combined can make it quite a challenge for basketball players to stick to basketball. But, that’s exactly it. Controlling one’s emotions is part of the challenge as a competitive basketball player. And the one’s better at it are the ones that will be more successful over the long term.

When players cannot control their emotions and lines are crossed like they were in the Lakers-Rockets game, there are consequences. Besides the suspensions and fines that come with it (for the players involved this will result in hundreds of thousands of dollars lost. NBA players are suspended without pay and their salaries are based per 82 games), it also effects their teams. Brandon Ingram is supposed to be the Lakers second-best player this season. This is supposed to be his “leap” year. The Lakers could have used him in the last 4:13 of the Rockets game. The Lakers could have used Ingram in the overtime loss to the Spurs the following game. Rajon Rondo is the Lakers’ starting point guard. He’s a veteran and a proven winner. He has value at the end of close games, but he wasn’t available either at the end of the Rockets game or the Spurs game. How many more games will the Lakers lose minus two starters? How about the Rockets? They lost their next two games without a suspended Chris Paul. Remember how close the playoff race was in the west last year? Will those losses affect the Rockets’ seeding? SpitGate and the suspensions that followed may effect if the Lakers seeding or even if they make the playoffs this year.

If your a fan of the Lakers you have to ask, why did Brandon Ingram push James Harden again? Why did he run in and throw a punch after his situation was defused? Was it worth it? Laker fans and Rockets fans also have to ask, why did Rondo and Paul get into it at all? Before the spitting, eye-gouging, face-mushing and punches, why were they face to face jawing and posing to begin with? Was that really worth it?

Now, that’s easy for me to say a week after the fact and observing from the sidelines. It’s much more difficult to do when your involved and the moment arises.

However, players know the rules going into every game. They know the consequences should they fail to keep their cool. On the line is much more than a player’s machismo or ego. Games and entire seasons are put in jeopardy because of suspensions. This affects teammates, team staff, the entire organization and their fan base. There are a lot of people who have worked very hard to make the Rockets and Lakers contenders. Fans also invest a ton of their time and financial resources to their team. They too, ride the emotional roller coaster of their chosen team’s season.

There is another thing too, a few few years ago when Marc Pingris got into a memorable PBA scrap with Kelly Nabong, Pingris said something after the fact that resonated with me. He was remorseful for what happened because his kids were at the game. His children had to watch the replay of their daddy getting into a fight again and again on the big screen at the Cuneta Astrodome. Pingris said he was going to have to apologize to his kids and explain to them that the he had used bad judgement in handling the situation. In short, he was sorry that in that instance he had failed to be a good role model to his kids.

When NBA superstars like Brandon Ingram, Rajon Rondo and Chris Paul get into a fight during an NBA game, the world is watching. Specifically, the young global basketball community is watching. Good or bad, people will take away from SpitGate what they chose to do so. Hopefully, a positive lesson can be learned from this incident.

Basketball is an emotionally-charged game. That’s one of the reasons why we love it. It adds to the story when it gets personal. We like it. We will all be tuning in the next time the Lakers play the Rockets. We will be watching closely when Chris Paul and Rajon Rondo guard each other, as they most certainly will. We want them to push their competitive spirit as far as they can.

Personally, I don’t want to watch basketball players fight. Basketball players over history have proven to be awful fighters anyway. There are other ways on the court and in training to show their toughness. But, fights happen. Keeping emotions in check is part of the game. Most of the time players are able to control their competitive spirit. But sometimes with things so competitive and so personal, emotions get the best of basketball players. SpitGate gave us the first NBA altercation of the season. And despite the consequences that were handed out, don’t expect SpitGate to be the last we see of fighting on the basketball court.

Eric Menk played in the PBA from 1999 to 2016. Menk is a four-time PBA champion, three-time PBA Finals MVP and one-time PBA MVP (2005). He currently writes for ABS-CBN Sports weekly. Menk also has his podcast Staying MAJOR as welll as his own YouTube channel .

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