In public, people who write and talk about sports look down on pushing, shoving, trash-talking, and smack-jiving. Words like “ugly” and “loss of composure” are used to describe such shenanigans. In private, though, you rarely meet a fan who gets upset by a little beef. No one wants to see cheap shots causing injuries, but let’s just say this…
…did not make the 2004 ALCS between the Red Sox and Yankees less exciting.
It is in this context that this year’s NBA Finals were a reminder — a chastening and embarrassing one, if we’re being honest — that clean and civil doesn’t have to mean boring and emotionless.
You can’t possibly complain that the games weren’t competitive enough. The second halves of Games 6 and 7 in particular were played at a continuous sprint and decided by a combined ten points. About eight different guys made huge clutch plays that seemed, as they were being made, like they could be the decisive moments of the series. All ten players on the court moved with desperation. TV timeouts were actually a relief amidst the fury of the last five minutes of yesterday night’s game. Humans were pushing each other to the pinnacle of achievement and whatnot.
It was only after the madness ended with a championship for LeBron James and the Heat that anyone noticed that there hadn’t been a single technical foul called in the series for arguing or fighting. (One was called against each team for illegal defense.) If there was even any pushing and shoving after the whistle, I don’t remember it. When the last horn sounded, both LeBron James and Dwyane Wade immediately found Tim Duncan for the ol’ “good game” hug before they started celebrating.
A lot of teams and players talk about respecting each other. These teams clearly actually did. It was great. And we all learned a lesson about sportsmanship which will be forgotten as soon as a baseball player gets hit by a pitch and charges the mound against a division rival. Fight! Fight! Fight!