by Kent Sterling
During the little altercation between Mike Scott of the Atlanta Hawks and Indiana Pacers guard George Hill, Paul George took a step on to the court before assistant coaches formed a human blockade between the players and the fracas.
The media is discussing the possibility of George being suspended for leaving the bench, as though stepping onto the court requires an automatic response from the NBA in the form of a one-game suspension.
Fortunately for the Pacers and their hopes to win tomorrow’s Game Seven, the rule is not so strictly worded. Rule 12A, Section 7c reads, “During an altercation, all players not participating in the game must remain in the immediate vicinity of their bench. Violators will be suspended, without pay, for a minimum of one game and fined up to $50,000. The suspensions will commence prior to the start of their next game.”
The operative phrase is “immediate vicinity.” What the rule does not say is “if you place your feet within the boundaries of the court during an altercation, you WILL be suspended.”
Video clearly shows George taking one slow step onto the floor and stopping before the Pacers assistant coaches intervened.
Pacers forward Rasual Butler was further out on the floor, and far more demonstrative as he pointed toward the something beyond the sideline.
On the other end of the floor, there are clearly Hawks players off the bench on the floor, but in no way posing any more of less a threat than George.
While there might be an issue with Butler, a suspension of George would violate both the letter and spirit of the rule. Discouraging players on the bench from engaging in a fight between opposing players is what the rule was enacted to prevent, and George’s behavior at no point resembled that of a bench player who for even a moment indulged in an impulse to insert himself into the action.
The letter of the rule allows for a gray area interpretation of the just what the immediate vicinity of the bench is, and the pace and emotionless steps George took should prompt the inaction from the league that the wording of the rule encourages.
It’s not a matter of Game Seven being so important that a suspension would create an unfair and difficult to overcome competitive imbalance for the Pacers, but a real world interpretation of a well-worded and designed rule.
Stu Jackson is the guy who used to issue these suspensions for the NBA, and at 1:14 a.m., he tweeted, “During George Hill @mikescott altercation @Paul_George24 @RasualButler45 leave bench. George still in vicinity, Butler is not=1 gm sups.”
If the NBA wants to play hard ass, they can suspend Butler, but taking George off the floor would be an asinine overreaction to solve a problem that didn’t exist.
Commissioner Adam Silver has had a good week with his universally applaud lifetime ban for Donald Sterling (no relation). Sullying his image by costing the Pacers a legitimate shot at winning the first NBA Game Seven at home in franchise history would not only be imprudent but absurd.