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The Motown Melee

Observer Viewpoint | Monday, November 22, 2004

Now that the election is behind us and the political climate has cooled down, I will take this opportunity to take a welcome departure from the realm of politics. Instead I’d like to shift to another battleground where you can see grown men behave like children. This of course is the realm of basketball and the now infamous “Motown Melee” of Auburn Hills.

Of course, this incident began with a scuffle between Detroit Pistons’ Ben Wallace and Indiana Pacers’ Ron Artest during Friday night’s game. Instead of walking away, Wallace delivered a hard two-handed shove to Artest’s chin. After that, there was more yelling and Wallace threw a wristband at Artest. Reading the chronology of the events, I would not be surprised to see either one of them shout, “He started it!”

Then, an unidentified fan decided it would be cute to throw a cup of ice and some other random beverage at Artest. So, what’s practical in this situation? Perhaps the off-color four letter word or finger would seem appropriate? No, instead you should probably charge through seven rows of fans swinging as you go and start slamming some random guy’s head into the stands that you think did it. After that, you’ve already given away one free lawsuit to the NBA, so why not create 20 really good ones?

The reactions of the players, commentators and fans in this are all quite disappointing. A situation such as this demonstrates broader problems with the league, and offers insight into why the NBA fan base has been on the decline. As a disinterested observer of professional sports and political junkie, none of the actions surprised me when looked at from the angle of self-interested human behavior.

NBA players are becoming ever-more humiliating examples of moral character. Besides the public arrests, adultery and increasingly childish actions of the players, a distinct individualism pervades over them. Instead of respecting the fact that they make more money than the President of the United States for dribbling a basketball, it becomes an entitlement.

Just that fact, that someone is paid that much money to do something so insignificant in the course of history is disgusting in itself. Instead of Condoleezza Rice earning millions for being the first African-American woman to take the charge of U.S. world policy, our culture rewards grown men that behave like children millions of dollars for isolated athletic skill with no prerequisites for character qualities. This is to the point that they actually need to be told that you don’t punch people in the face.

Another aspect of this incident that amused me was the well-rehearsed shock of sports commentators on ESPN and other news networks. Underneath it all, the money is still flowing and their ratings were probably through the roof after this happened. At the same time, this incident may actually serve to boost the sorry ratings of the NBA. Underneath all the shock and awe, nobody associated with the NBA could honestly say with a straight face they were trying to prevent players with serious moral character flaws from playing.

Regarding the fans, their actions were inexcusable. However, respect is a two-way street. Respect must be given before it is gained from another party. When players act like children on and off the court, that level of respect plummets to new lows. Therefore, acting like an unsportsmanlike childish jerk at a live nationally-televised event might get a beer tossed your way from the fans.

Obviously, my opinion may be biased as I am not the biggest fan of the NBA. At the same time, I love college sports and limit my opinion to the actual players guilty of these character flaws. That being considered, I have still noticed a trend in the limited capacity I have followed the NBA over the last few years. I’ve seen it in the ridiculous amounts of money players are played and their genuinely selfish behavior. Combining the recent Kobe Bryant incident and the recent Olympic performance with this one can give some insight into why I don’t like the NBA.

In contrast with almost all other professional sports, one can see the glaring individualism and immaturity of NBA players. To use the words professional and athlete to describe some NBA players is an oxymoron. Hopefully, the American people will stop taking their families to see these sad excuses for role models ruin a great sport.

Tom Rippinger is a senior political science major. He supports President Bush and is the co-President of the Notre Dame College Republicans. He can be contacted at trippin1@nd.edu.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.