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Marcin Gortat wants the NBA to allow NHL-style fighting

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Marcin Gortat prepares to punch everyone in the face (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Chris Young).

 

The NBA as an organization takes many measures to stop on-court fighting, fromlevying considerable suspensions and fines for any related actions to ensuring fans (and potential fans) at every opportunity that it takes the supposed problem very seriously. While the league likely wouldn't say that fighting is an epidemic, it approaches the situation as something to be solved.

Nevertheless, players still fight, often enough that we could be forgiven for thinking the outpouring of emotion and physicality in the middle of competition might be a natural byproduct of the pressures of the game, not some moral deficiency on the part of the participants. In fact, one NBA player thinks that the league should understand these issues and allow short bursts of fighting in a manner similar to NHL hockey. From Kyle Weidie's interview with Washington Wizards center Marcin Gortat for TrueHoop:

Any rule changes that you think would help the NBA game? For instance, sometimes they talk about instituting FIBA goaltending rules in the NBA. Any thoughts on that or any other changes that would help the game play?

The goaltending? It definitely wouldn’t help. You have too many athletic guys in this league that would tip the ball out of the rim, so pretty much to make a basket you will need to swish it, you know what I’m saying?

I would say I would loosen up a little bit the rules about the fighting fines. That’s what I would loosen up. Because today you go to an ice hockey game, and the one thing they’re waiting for is a fight, you know what I’m saying? So if they could set it up something like that in the NBA. That if there are two guys and they have a problem, if they could just separate everybody. And these two people that have problem, if they could fight ...

During the game?

 

During the game. Quick, 15-20 seconds, throw few punches, then referees jump in and break this thing up. I think the game ... these two guys, they resolved their problem. They’re both suspended and they’re leaving. But end of the day, they fix the problem between each other, fans are super excited, and I think that would be a pretty cool idea [chuckles].

You’d need bigger refs. You couldn’t have Dick Bavetta out there.

At some point when the referees jump in, then you’d have to stop. You’d have to stop. So I think that would be a great idea, just like the ice hockey fans waiting for that, that’s would NBA fans would get into, as well.

It seems unlikely that the league would ever support Gortat's suggestion. Although he puts forth the idea for its entertainment value, the NBA sees the fighting issue primarily as a problem of the league's image. At a time when many misguided people still associate the NBA with crime and thuggery, the league office feels the need to manage its public image however possible. Given that the NBA receives an undue amount of negative attention for its fights, it sees curtailing that practice as one of the most effective ways to improve its popularity. This is to say nothing of the fact that sanctioned fighting lends itself better to a sport like hockey, where it's a longstanding part of the game and tied to a foregrounded tradition of toughness. Basketball, on the other hand, has always focused on its own skill and artistry in promoting itself.

Regardless, it makes sense that Gortat would be a fan of this idea. As a big man who succeeds in part via toughness and roughing up opponents, he would have more latitude to frustrate opponents both physically and mentally. Crucially, Gortat also wouldn't suffer from the attendant image problem. The "Polish Machine"/"Polish Hammer" is a tough guy, not a thug, and hails from a region of the world that American audiences associate more closely with cartoonish Eastern Bloc villainy than with a genuine threat to daily life. He would be seen as a villain in a story.

Even if Gortat's perspective is limited, he still provides a useful way into the issue of fighting in the NBA. Instead of demonizing the participants, Gortat sees a fight as a feature of the larger NBA experience rather than an inherently horrible thing. Whether it's worth having in basketball is up for debate, but the mere fact that it's up for discussion shows progress. There's no knee-jerk attempt to call everyone a criminal. The solution might not be to allow this behavior, but Gortat does prove that there's another way to view the issue.

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Eric Freeman is a writer for Ball Don't Lie on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at efreeman_ysports@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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