Column: NBA players do not learn

Published 10:09 am Friday, December 10, 2004

By Staff
You'd think the NBA players would learn.
Saturday there was yet another incident involving a player and a fan that drew a suspension. This time, however, commissioner David Stern got the punishment wrong.
Stern suspended Minnesota Timberwolves guard Latrell Sprewell on Tuesday for yelling a sexual vulgarity at a female fan during Saturday's game at the Los Angeles Clippers.
What Sprewell said was inappropriate, rude, politically incorrect and shouldn't be uttered anywhere, especially on the court. However, that's in a perfect world.
In the real world, NBA players are just human beings. Incredibly tall human being, but they're still people just the same. And while Sprewell was in the wrong, he shouldn't be suspended for a gut reaction to a constant verbal assault from the stands.
It's hasn't been revealed publicy what the fan said to draw Sprewell's ire, but one NBA analyst for ESPN said it's too harsh to be repeated on the air. No one, not even athletes, should be expected to put up with that sort of treatment.
One can't help but compare this incident to the brawl between Indiana Pacers players and Detroit Pistons fans on Nov. 19. A player was provoked by an idiotic fan and responded as most people would.
Though Sprewell's actions weren't nearly as bad as Ron Artest's, Stern had the melee in Detroit in the back of his mind when he doled out the one-game suspension. That was wrong of him.
Sprewell lost his cool in an intense moment of competition. The vulgarity came after a key foul call late in a close game. He was angry, and when he heard it from the fan, he yelled right back.
The whole ordeal wouldn't even be a problem if Sprewell's foul mouth wasn't picked up by courtside camera's on live TV. You think he's the first player to ever respond verbally to the jeers of fans? No, he's just one of the few to get caught.
As in the infamous "Throwdown in Motown," a large part of the blame must rest on the shoulders of the fans. People in the stands these days get out of hand with the comments they make. Yes, buying a ticket does entitle fans to boo, cheer, hiss and shout all they want. And the First Ammendment guarantees those fans the right to say whatever they wish. But pure human civility dictates that you don't lob personal insults and racial slurs at anyone, even if you happen to dispise Sprewell.
The First Ammendment does allow the freedom of speech, but it does not protect words used to instigate or provoke violence. That's exactly what that Clippers fan was trying to do.
While Sprewell was wrong and needed to keep his cool, he can't be blamed for finally letting some of his anger out. No matter how much anyone gets paid, they're only human and prone to outbursts. David Stern must realize this and must place some accountability on the fans.