The days of the plain old hard foul in the NBA are pretty much done — these days, any kind of major contact earns a flagrant foul. It's the new standard, enough so that fans have been conditioned to understand the calls and not complain too much when no play for the ball earns an ejection. It's just the way of the contemporary basketball world.
On Thursday night, Jason Smith of the New Orleans Hornets committed what was pretty clearly an ejection-worthy flagrant on Los Angeles Clippers star Blake Griffin. With just over four minutes left in the fourth quarter, Griffin took a pass from Chris Paul in transition with an open lane to the basket. Smith challenged the play, but instead of going for the ball he sent Griffin sliding with a strong hip-check. It didn't seem like there was any intention to injure Griffin, but that question is immaterial to the issue — by the rulebook, and all modern views of what a flagrant foul looks like, it was the kind of play that gets the offending player kicked out of a game.
Except, instead of realizing that the play was unsafe, Hornets fans cheered Smith for the foul. You can watch the video above, via our friends at the Yahoo! Sports Minute, and see for yourself.
It's been a tough season in New Orleans, and the determination that the Hornets showed on Thursday night in their surprising 97-90 win deserves attention. But this foul, no matter the intent, was the kind of thing no one should want to see on a basketball court at any level. Smith had a good game (17 points on 7-of-10 shooting and eight rebounds in 28 minutes), and it's understandable why Hornets fans would feel pride in their team at this point in the game — on some level, they were cheering Smith's will to win rather than the act itself.
Still, a justified ejection isn't exactly worthy of cheers. Save those for the plays that gave the Hornets their best win of the season. As anyone who watched the game knows, there were plenty of them.