A couple days before watching Golden State’s Draymond Green kick Oklahoma City’s Steven Adams in the man bits during the Western Conference Finals, I read a long story about the problem with NBA players being too buddy-buddy with opponents.
After cringing through the replays of Green’s egregious violation of Rule One of The Man Code, I’m a lot more comfortable with old friends like LeBron James and Dwyane Wade exchanging genial pleasantries rather than dangerous kicks.
Risking suspension at a critical time of the playoffs, Green protested that the kick at Adams was only following through on a shot. Video evidence makes that seem very unlikely.
Adams said it wasn’t even the first time that Green has pulled a similar trick. “That’s two times in the last two games, I don’t think you can keep (hitting) somebody in their private areas,” Adams told reporters.
That seems a reasonable expectation.
NBA playoffs get more physical, but low blows are more than painful, they’re a very personal insult.
Just last week some in the league scowled at James and Wade, long-time friends and teammates for four seasons in Miami. Even though now on different teams, they sometimes stay at each other’s house during the season, and they give the warm bro-hugs before and after games.
Some contend there’s no place for this in the hyper-competitive world of professional sports. Timing is a factor, sure. After a hard-fought loss, for instance, might not be the best time for displays of brotherhood. Totally understand the sensitivity to that.
But in the era of free agency, players move around so much and play with so many other guys, almost everybody has dear friends on other teams.
“The biggest misconception, for myself and LeBron, is that we can’t compete against each other because we’re friends,” Wade said in an ESPN.com article. “We’re two of the biggest competitors in the game. It’s just a slap in the face. I played amongst my brothers my whole life, and I wanted to beat their ass every time.”
The truest competitors appreciate that spirit in their opponents, too.
A couple memorable examples.
In the 2004 Olympics in Athens, the decathlon stretched over two days in savage heat. It had barely cooled on the night of the second day when the runners took off on the 1,500 meters that would decide the medals.
Roman Sebrle of the Czech Republic had a slim lead over Bryan Clay of the USA, and he managed to hold him off and set an Olympic record at 8,893 points.
But what happened at the end of the race was more interesting than the competitive outcome. As the decathletes crossed the line, to finish their 10-event ordeal, one after another collapsed, their jackstraw bodies littering the track.
The stadium that had been filled with cheers grew almost silent with concern. Had a dozen or more athletes competed themselves to death? After wary moments, a few stirred, and rose to all fours. Those who could, crawled over to those still prostrate, offering encouragement.
In time, one leaning upon another like mutual crutches, they helped each other up. The crowd went from silence to lunacy in response to the amazing display of competitive brotherhood.
A smaller scale but equally heartfelt example of sportsmanship I remember was in a Seahawks game at San Francisco when the Hawks had the great offensive line of Walter Jones, Steve Hutchinson, Robbie Tobeck, Chris Gray and Sean Locklear.
As good as they were, they always had a challenge dealing with 49ers defensive tackle Bryant Young, who played so hard and so well that he earned the respect of opponents around the league.
Young had fought through terrible leg injuries, but again was giving the Hawks a tough time on this day when he went down with what was obviously a serious injury. When the Seahawks linemen saw him, all five rushed over to him and tried to help.
It was memorable as an outpouring of concern and respect. And was a great reflection of how real competitors act.
They didn’t run over and kick him in the groin.