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Spurs’ Gregg Popovich on courtside service that led to Stephen Jackson’s ankle sprain: ‘It’s maddening’

Dan Devine
Ball Don't Lie

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Pop doesn't get why that dude's allowed to order nachos right now. (AP/Morry Gash)

Early in the San Antonio Spurs' 100-83 loss to the New York Knicks last Thursday night, Spurs small forward Stephen Jackson found himself on the receiving end of an odd injury, spraining his right ankle when he stepped on a waitress who was crouching courtside at Madison Square Garden and seemed to be taking an order from New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. The freak play sent Jackson to the locker room after less than three minutes of play, kept him out of San Antonio's Saturday night win over the Philadelphia 76ers and has his listed as questionable for Monday's matchup with the New Orleans Hornets, taking away a member (albeit a struggling one) of the Spurs' rotation as they battle with the likes of the Oklahoma City Thunder and Los Angeles Clippers for the top spot in the Western Conference.

While Jackson has referred to his injury as a "minor setback," his coach thinks the circumstances that led to it are kind of a big deal. From Mike Monroe of the San Antonio Express-News:

Calling Thursday’s sideline incident at Madison Square Garden that led to forward Stephen Jackson’s right ankle sprain “a Mayoral mishap,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich called on the NBA to police activity along the league’s sidelines and baselines.

“It’s maddening,” Popovich said of the incident in which Jackson lost his balance after running into a waitress during the first quarter of the Spurs-Knicks game. The waitress appeared to be taking an order from New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg.

“It’s an accident waiting to happen.” [...]

Popovich expressed confidence the incident would spur the league to better control the sidelines during games.

“After what happened, I have no doubt the league has contacted teams to make sure everybody shores up their discipline in that area,” he said. “It’s obvious people shouldn’t be ordering beers or Cokes or hot dogs when the game is going on.”

It's not something the lion's share of fans ever get to experience, but in-seat courtside waitstaff/concierge service is an available amenity not only at MSG, but at most every NBA arena. It's part of the Staples Center's premium seating plans for Lakers and Clippers games, the Oklahoma City Thunder's VIP section, the Brooklyn Nets' courtside package, the Philadelphia 76ers' special "Club 76" section, "Courtside Club" memberships offered by the Milwaukee Bucks and Golden State Warriors, and more.

Those who pay for both courtside seats and an attendant membership plan want to be able to enjoy their up-close-and-personal access without having to get up and go get their own snacks; given the amount of dough they shell out for the privilege of seeing and being seen, you can kind of understand why. The league has for years refused to do anything about similar and much more common ankle injuries caused by players tripping over baseline photographers, because that's where the photographers need to do if you need to accommodate increasingly-court-encroaching seating plans and the extra arena revenues they generate; while a brief "Hey, be careful out there" reminder might've been mass-mailed out, given the relative rarity of incidents like Jackson's unfortunate injury occurring, it seems unlikely that the NBA would level any kind of sweeping proclamation or policy shift that might theoretically inconvenience courtside VIPs.

Still, though, as we saw last Thursday, all it takes is one poorly timed order and one false step for an arrangement that makes arena operators plenty of money to turn into a flashpoint, and all it takes is a coach with a willingness to speak up and fight the league to keep an issue alive. Pop's certainly that; it'll be interesting to see if he continues to needle the NBA and Commissioner David Stern about the issue, especially if Jackson continues to miss time with the ankle injury.

One thing's for sure: If I was Mayor Bloomberg, I'd be very wary of the powerful, espionage-trained adversary he may have just gained. Hope the popcorn was worth it, Your Honor.

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