Things turned ugly Monday night in Los Angeles, and for once it wasn’t the ramblings of LaVar Ball that caused a frenzy at Staples Center.
After a hotly contested game between the Los Angeles Clippers and Houston Rockets, one which included scuffles between former teammates Blake Griffin and Chris Paul, tension ran afoul as the teams headed back into the locker room. Houston coach Mike D’Antoni complained to officials that Griffin had intentionally pushed him on the sidelines, and multiple instances of Clippers and Rockets players exchanging words were reported. The worst of these came from Clippers shooting guard Austin Rivers, who managed to serve as a nuisance towards the Rockets despite being limited to street clothes on the bench.
But all of the on-court choppiness paled in comparison to what would occur later on in the night, as Paul led himself and three other Rockets players (including star shooting guard James Harden) through a back door towards the Clippers home locker room in the arena. It was here where many Clippers players were forced to push the Rockets back out into the hallway after taunting them from afar, and police were called in to assess the details of the situation and prompted an investigation from the league on Tuesday morning.
We’ve all been in the situation before regardless of the athletic event: things get testy, the game ends, and you walk off the court or playing surface feeling as though you could have done something more to combat the problem. We wait a few minutes, collect ourselves, and go about our business like nothing happened. Professional athletes who compete at the top level should be the most adept to handle the banter that athletics entails, given just how much of it they receive in our society today from both opposing players and fans alike. But for someone who is paid hundreds of millions of dollars per year to head over to the opposing locker room after a game, a team he represented for several seasons, and openly taunt opposing players and pick fights after regulation is just ridiculous and shouldn’t be tolerated.
Many officials around the league are now saying that the incident was overblown, and that Trevor Ariza was the player most responsible for the altercation- but I believe the childish behavior from Paul, who has been notorious for rocky relationships with teammates and organizations in the past, warrants a serious punishment despite the lack of physical aggression in the altercation. Give him and the others a game or two in order to think about his negative actions, and allow the decision to serve as a reminder to others around the league that this type of behavior will not be tolerated. Despite his obvious frustration towards the Clippers organization, it remains Paul’s job to lead his new team in the right direction as well as serve as a better ambassador for the league. After all, Paul serves as the president of the NBA Players Association, and should be the last person to pick fights and receive suspensions from the league. Millions of kids across the country look up to him as both a player and a human being, and his decision to implode in the worst possible circumstances and participate in a charge towards the other team’s locker room sends the wrong message about channeling anger in sports. Step back, take a deep breath, and remember that you all have millions of dollars to throw around at the end of the day regardless of the final score.
I have always respected Chris Paul for both his game and his negotiations in the collective bargaining agreement in 2011. He, along with a few other key player contributors, allowed the league to avoid a calendar-year lock out- and I along with many other pro basketball fans will be forever thankful for his efforts in the situation. He may have done some great things in the past, but his recent antics demand a formal response and redress of grievances. Not only will it help his own brand and reputation, but will also improve the hostile relations we’ve seen growing over the past few weeks.