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The NBA has its own Fight Club rules. Nobody throws live punches. (C’mon, Bobby Portis.) Don’t accidentally club your own teammates (looking at you, Kelly Oubre). Don’t leave the bench to break up a fight (Sorry, Amar’e Stoudemire and Boris Diaw). And nobody walks away from a team scuffle.
Los Angeles Lakers guard Lonzo Ball violated that fourth rule on Friday against the Phoenix Suns.
With three minutes remaining in a game the Suns eventually won, 122-113, L.A. wing Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Phoenix guard Tyler Ulis got into a shoving match. That prompted the four other Suns on the court to rush over and defend Ulis. Most of Caldwell-Pope’s teammates came over to even the odds before everyone was separated, but there was one notable absence in the scrum.
Cameras caught Ball walking right past the fracas and continuing to the Lakers bench disinterested:
When asked afterwards at his locker about his decision not to come to a teammate’s defense, Ball summed it up succinctly: “It’s the NBA. People ain’t really gonna fight. I ain’t trying to get no tech.”
As with most things Ball does, his actions created a stir on social media. Given Ball’s history of conflict avoidance, there were strong reactions to his apathy. But his sedated demeanor has created a twisted portrait of a passionless player, and the the reaction to this one incident is probably overblown, too.
Lakers coach Luke Walton and teammate Brook Lopez came to Ball’s defense after the game.
“Yeah, I mean, you’re staying out of trouble,” Lopez told reporters. “I feel like I’m big enough to where I can come and get in the middle of it, and I’m not going to do anything crazy. So I’m just trying to get everything under control, help get everything under control.
“I just try to get in there and break it up. I’ll just try to get in the middle of it. If someone throws a punch, maybe it’ll hit me. I can take it. Unlike [my twin brother] Robin, probably.”
Still, the Lakers made sure somebody addressed Ball about the matter. Via ESPN.com:
“Someone on our team talked with him,” Walton said after the Lakers’ practice Saturday, without disclosing who it was. “It’s all part of the learning process.”
When asked to reveal who spoke to Ball, Walton said, “That’s a locker room thing, unless they want to share it. What our players talk about behind the doors I’m not going to repeat to the media.”
Ball’s reaction is reminiscent of a January 2014 Lakers-Suns incident involving Nick Young. Young was ejected after going 1-on-5 against Alex Len and a slew of his Suns teammates during a run-of-the-mill regular-season scuffle. He was even more upset after the game about his non-existent backup.
Then-Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni took Ball’s side of the debate at the time. “You don’t fight in this league,” D’Antoni said following the 2014 incident. “It wouldn’t help us to lose two or three more guys.”
We’ve learned Ball is a pacificist after the whistle, and that’s OK. In this circumstance, the Lakers were attempting a comeback bid down nine with three minutes remaining, so he was in the correct frame of mind. However, it would still be nice to see him channel more intensity into his play between whistles.
If there was any lingering awkwardness between Ball and his teammates, it didn’t show up on Sunday, when Ball recorded his second career triple-double (11 points, 11 assists and 16 rebounds) and finished a plus-29 over 40 minutes of a 127-109 upset victory against the Denver Nuggets.
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