There's an expectation in all sports that home fans won't boo when an opposing player gets injured. It's common courtesy, really, and an affirmation of the values that drive athletic competition. We might get crazy between the lines, but when real-life issues like health come into play we worry about a person's long-term health.
During Wednesday night's 92-80 loss to the Memphis Grizzlies, Los Angeles Clippers power forward Blake Griffin fell and hurt his knee. At first, it looked fairly serious (although, to be fair, Griffin falls down and winces in pain a lot). Yet, instead of waiting to see if he was OK and cheering him as he left the court, the Memphis fans booed. And while there was some question as to whether they were booing Griffin or the questionable foul call on the replay, the whole scene was a little unfortunate.
Griffin turned out to be fine — he stayed in the game after being checked out, though not without discomfort, and was later diagnosed with a sprained left knee. Yet that wasn't the only big injury for the Clippers on the night: Chris Paul reaggravated his groin during a defensive possession in the fourth quarter and looked noticeably limited for the rest of the game (video after the jump). The Grizz fans' reaction wasn't quite as strong as that to Griffin, it wasn't exactly filled with sportsmanship. So why, exactly, did Grizzlies fans react in this way to both injuries?
The easiest answer is that competitive drive gets ramped way up during a playoff series, especially when all five games to-date have been fairly close, physical contests. But there's also something more at play here, which is that the Clippers are gaining a reputation as flop artists. When a team treats most every foul as a gruesome injury, the real injuries become harder to identify, and perhaps Grizzlies fans (who couldn't see Griffin nearly as well as those of us watching at home) just assumed he was playing up the foul in the hopes of saddling Marc Gasol with a flagrant or technical foul. It sounds mean, but this situation is at least a little similar to that of The Boy Who Cried Wolf. Play around too much and people won't always believe it when you're serious.
That's not to say that Griffin deserved to get hurt, or that we should treat the boos as deserved. The idea of Griffin missing the playoffs (and more) with a serious knee injury is a terrible one — he might have an attitude, but he's still a uniquely exciting talent. The Boy Who Cried Wolf might be a cautionary tale, but it's also the story of a young boy being eaten by a wolf. What's important to remember, though, is that a player's exaggerated response to a hard foul will change how fans react to the truly dangerous plays. It's bad form to cheer an injury, no matter what that player might be like as a person. However, that behavior does affect the believability of all plays, and it's hard to assess what really happens when a player's usual tactics try to blur the lines of fact and fiction. We shouldn't condone booing Griffin's injury, but there is an explanation for what happened in Memphis.
UPDATE: Chris Herrington, who covers the Grizzlies for The Memphis Flyer, informed me over Twitter that the fan reaction might have been extended because the Grizzlies showed a Clippers fan on their video board while Griffin was down. Whatever the case, the incident was in poor taste, whether on the part of the Grizzlies for showing the fan or on Grizzlies fans for not respecting the injury.
(Chris Paul video via Ben Golliver)