Golden State Warrior All-Star David Lee and Indiana Pacers center Roy Hibbert have each been suspended for one game without pay for their role in Tuesday night’s melee between the Warriors and Pacers. The league had to come down quickly, as Lee’s Warriors are set to play the New York Knicks on Wednesday evening, which explains the quickness behind Hibbert’s suspension in advance of his team’s nationally televised game against the Los Angeles Clippers on Thursday.
As was the case on Tuesday night, Hibbert was contrite about the back and forth, while also promising to pay the fine his teammate Lance Stephenson took in for his role in the brawl. In talking with a scrum of reporters, as videotaped and documented by the Indianapolis Star’s Mike Wells, Hibbert brought up an influence that usually tends to put a damper on even the most ardent of ragers. From the Star:
“My mom was a little upset,” Hibbert said. “She said I should have walked away. It’s unfortunate it happened. I watched the video and I saw there was a little kid that ran up out of his seat when all that happened. I apologize to the fans that were sitting courtside. We’re a team that loves the fans and we don’t want to scare them away.”
Watch the video of Hibbert’s post-tussle reaction from Wednesday:
It’s true that Hibbert should have walked away, but as Eric Freeman mentioned in his breakdown of the semi-brawl from late Tuesday, it’s kind of hard for in upwards of two dozen athletes to bang bodies for well over two hours and not have some fevered reaction to a shove (inadvertent or otherwise) gone wrong. This is a physical game and fans expect the players they pay to see to be working up to the edge of fanatical machismo, so a shoving match is not only par for the course, but something we’re surprised doesn’t happen more often.
That said, so much could have gone wrong on Tuesday night.
The back and forth did spill out into the stands, even if bodies weren’t flying into the 22nd row, and both the Pacers and their fans are lucky that nobody was hit with a stray anything. Anyone who has ever been in or around a fight can understand that even the most innocuous of movements – a step here, an elbow there – can result in a significant cut, break, or bash to someone who wasn’t the intended participant. Though this fight was relatively mild and no punches were thrown, the movement that resulted was dangerous – even if skinny guys like Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson were the ones being tossed about.
The NBA didn’t overreact – one game apiece for the on-court work of Lee and Hibbert is fair – but to hear Roy tell it in the video above? It’s clear the message had been sent from the league hours before the suspension was handed down late Wednesday afternoon. Sorry you were shoved, but these things can’t come close to the stands. End of story.
For would-be local fans of the Pacers -- speaking as a local whose loyalties reside with another team -- we hope this isn’t the end of the story. The Pacers have one of the best arenas in the NBA that also features one of the smaller capacities in the league, and yet the fans aren’t coming out. Indy Star columnist Bob Kravitz, writing for USA Today, was fabulously on point to take down the insipid Colin Cowherd’s (who, co-incidentally, has a national radio show premiering in Indiana markets this week) moronic and self-serving argument that racist ex-Pacer fans are staying away from the team, denying the club a chance to move up from 24th overall in the NBA in attendance.
Unfamiliarity, economic concerns, and myriad other factors are going into the Pacers’ iffy attendance. For now, though, the division-leading Pacers are by far the best defensive team in the NBA, in great part due to the fantastic work of the (smart, dutiful, and damn funny) Roy Hibbert. We hope this bit of midseason flexing, over eight years removed from a Malice in the Palace that most Pacers watched while in high school, doesn’t change anything.
If it does, Mrs. Hibbert would like a word.