Every so often, something really interesting happens during an NBA game that has nothing to do with Lebron James, Kevin Durant, Anthony Davis or James Harden. We know, that’s pretty hard for us to believe, too.
Like this: Have you ever seen a player ejected for staring at an opponent, even if it was for an uncomfortably long time?
Of course, we’re not talking about a Lady Gaga/Bradley Cooper hookup. That was sweet and sultry. What happened here conveyed a lot of emotion, but very little affection. It was more like a Hannibal Lecter thing, unnerving, kind of creepy.
Still, there are dozens of ways an NBA player can get tossed from a game. Just ask Rasheed Wallace. He got hit with 373 technical fouls resulting in an NBA-record 29 ejections during his career.
The officials working Sunday’s game between the Atlanta Hawks and Chicago Bulls showed us another way to get the check before dessert. They tossed the Hawks’ Trae Young for gazing too intently at the Bulls’ Chris Dunn.
Here’s how it came down. Young was coming off a career-high 49 points during Atlanta’s epic quadruple -OT home loss to the Bulls on Friday. So the former University of Oklahoma sharpshooter was feeling really good about life. He had that Cam Newton/Superman invincibility thing going on.
In the third quarter of Sunday’s game, Young hit a crazy-long three-pointer to give the Hawks a 78-62 lead. But instead of just running back on defense, Young struck the pose – hands on hips, staring down Dunn, who had his back to Young.
This might have been passed off as theatrics had the two not scuffled earlier in the first quarter to earn technical fouls. That incident truly merited action. It was incendiary – Young slapped at Dunn, Dunn shoved Young around the head area – and players from both sides had to intervene to keep Young and Dunn from going WWE on each other.
“Nah, I wasn’t surprised (about Dunn’s actions leading to the first T),” said Young. “I don’t know if he was mad about last game, but I wasn’t surprised. …They made a call, I live with it. I looked at someone and that was about it.”
The thing is, even Dunn didn’t think Young’s stare down deserved the second technical and automatic ejection that came along with it.
“I don’t really know what happened, to be honest,” Dunn said. “I just know that he got ejected, and I felt that he shouldn’t have got ejected.”
Ayotte was not at all ambivalent.
“Taunting is directed at an opponent specifically,” he told a pool reporter. “Celebration is not directed at an opponent.”
There is this general feeling professional sports are being officiated with a kinder and more gentler feel. NFL players are constantly complaining about being penalized for things once considered a matter of course. And hardly a game goes by in the NFL without someone getting called for taunting.
“What’s happened to my beloved NBA game?,” tweeted NBA Hall of Famer Reggie Miller. “ So damn SOFT and SENSITIVE now, nooooo way Trae Young should be given a technical for this.. I would have been broke and out of the league in 2 years. … #LetBallersBall.”
The Hawks survived Young’s ejection to win 123-118. Before he left with 5:41 to play in the third he’d scored 18 points with five assists
“I’m proud of my teammates, the way they played with everybody being out,” Young said. “It’s unbelievable. To get a win on the road is tough.
“I try to play with emotion, passion, effort, and a little bit of flair within the game of basketball… that’s all I’ve ever tried to do, and that’s the only way I know how.”
Here is the NBA’s rule on taunting:
“If a player blatantly taunts an opponent, a technical foul shall be assessed. The opponent WILL NOT, automatically, be assessed a technical foul. His behavior will be the determining factor. Simultaneous taunting is a verbal altercation. Verbal altercations and unsportsmanlike conduct will be administered as a double technical foul and no free throws will be attempted. Technical fouls assessed to opposing teams during the same dead ball and prior to the administering of any free throw attempt for the first technical foul, shall be interpreted as a double technical foul. A PLAYER(S) GUILTY OF TAUNTING MUST BE SINGLED OUT AND PENALIZED. If a previous unsportsmanlike act has been committed and if this situation is BLATANT, a technical foul must be assessed and the guilty player(s) must be ejected.”
Young is averaging 18.3 points this season, numbers jacked up by a spectacular February (25.3). Before Sunday, he’s scored at least 36 points in his last three games. Those 121 points are the most by any rookie this season over a three-game period. No rookie has even scored 28 in three straight.