When Larry Sanders got himself ejected during the closing stages of last Wednesday's loss to the Washington Wizards, his sarcastic triple-thumbs-up response gave the heave-ho a somewhat jovial feel that kind of took the edge off a double-digit defeat at the hands of a lottery team. But when the Milwaukee Bucks forward/center got tossed again during the fourth quarter of Friday night's loss to the streaking and soaring Miami Heat, it was no laughing matter for interim Bucks head coach Jim Boylan ... and NBA executive vice president of basketball operations Stu Jackson didn't find Sanders' postgame pop-off too funny, either.
Sanders' kettle started steaming with just over three minutes left and Miami holding an 11-point lead. After receiving a pass from teammate Ersan Ilyasova, Sanders was pinned against the baseline by Heat defender LeBron James; Sanders elevated for a layup, which missed and was rebounded by Chris Bosh, but Sanders felt he'd been fouled, and let referees Michael Smith and Olandis Poole know as much as he headed back down the court. On the ensuing Miami possession, Sanders wound up switched onto James at the 3-point line on the left wing; sensing a mismatch, James drove to the basket and attempted a short leaning jumper, which Sanders tried to block, knocking James to the floor and earning a foul call of his own.
This compounded Sanders' anger at the perceived no-call on the other end, so he stepped his griping up a notch, which netted him a technical foul. This, of course, only further incensed the 24-year-old shot-blocker, who continued to complain after the broadcast cut to commercial, resulting in a very quick second technical foul and an automatic ejection — Sanders' second ejection in two games — that took the Bucks' premier interior defender off the floor in the closing stages of a game against a team that loves driving to the basket.
After Sanders had picked up his 11th technical of the season — that ties him for seventh-most in the league and puts him within five T's of the automatic one-game suspension triggered by a player's 16th tech — and his league-leading fourth ejection of the year, Boylan promised to have "a serious discussion with Sanders about his on-court behavior," according to Bucks beat writer Charles F. Gardner of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel:
"You're a professional athlete, and you have to behave like a professional," Boylan said. "The referees don't come in here with an agenda, for the most part. They come in here and ref the game.
"I know all those guys. It doesn't mean you can't have an argument or a disagreement with one of them. That happens in the heat of the game. We'll talk with Larry. Like I've said to Larry before, I don't mind him playing with emotion as long as it doesn't hurt the team.
"Getting ejected from two games in a row, it's not good for our team and it's not good for Larry."
Alas, if only Boylan had started that "serious discussion" before Sanders spoke with the media on Friday night, the coach might have been able to prevent his big man from impugning the integrity of the NBA's officials and setting himself up for more punishment. More from Gardner:
"I can imagine it's hard for a referee to ref a Miami Heat game," Sanders said.
"It's hard for me to take that sometimes. I feel like things are kind of swayed. Maybe [I should] care a little less."
Well, independent of whether or not you should care any less, you should definitely not come out and insinuate that the refs have a hard time fairly officiating a Miami Heat game because "things are kind of swayed" in the direction of the star-heavy defending champions, Larry. You see, the folks in the league office don't take too kindly to the suggestion that they've got their big heavy thumbs weighing down the scales of justice and tilting the outcome of games in one team or another's favor.
When the NBA's disciplinary czars hear league personnel — and especially players — making that kind of implication, they tend to get fine-y ... and if Sanders didn't know that before, he definitely does now, after Jackson on Sunday announced that the Bucks big man's been slapped with a $50,000 fine for "using a derogatory and offensive term and publicly criticizing the officials."
The fine represents a little more than two full game checks for Sanders, who makes just under $2 million this year on the rookie-scale contract he signed after the Bucks selected him 15th overall in the 2010 draft, so he essentially played Sunday's Monta Ellis-fueled win over the Orlando Magic for free and will do the same on Tuesday, when the Bucks welcome the Portland Trail Blazers.
And as for the "care a little less" thing — nobody wants you to care less, Larry. We love the passion you show on the court, the energy you expend to play great, too-often-overlooked defense, the live-wire athleticism you use to block shots, and an awful lot else about what goes into your game. How much you care is a pretty big part of why you've become a fan favorite in Milwaukee and on the Internet.
We wouldn't mind seeing you complain about not getting calls, though, because we kind of hate it when anyone complains about not getting calls — I am a New York Knicks fan, and the complaining-about-not-getting-calls is my least favorite thing about rooting for Tyson Chandler (although, to be fair, there really aren't many other choices in a "least favorite" contest) — and because when you start directing your passion toward being angry about something that just happened, you're spending less energy focusing on something that's about to happen. It's not a matter of caring less, but rather a matter of figuring out when to bring it to an official and when to just bite down hard, run back harder and take it out on the guys in the road jerseys rather than hamstringing your pals in the home whites.
As Sanders' coach said, it's about the difference between acting like a professional and acting like someone who doesn't get the rules of the game. Here's hoping Sanders begins skewing more toward the former soon — we'd hate to see another gifted young big man develop a bad rep with the refs and continue to run afoul of the league due to less-than-stellar on-court decision-making.