There’s a fine line between gamesmanship and flat-out dirty play. Perhaps it depends on what lens you are looking through. Sometimes, trickery and chicanery pulled off in another era gets a free pass because today’s players, fans, and writers weren’t there to witness it. It becomes romanticized and humorous. When the incident occurs now, we often cry foul because the games these moves are impacting are right in front of us. We feel the matter personally. Whatever your barometer, some actions are clearly more egregious than others.
This week, two wild examples of coaches getting involved inside the lines have made headlines. Wednesday night, Brooklyn Nets head coach Jason Kidd got uber-creative with his team trailing the Lakers and just 8.3 seconds remaining in the game. Kidd appeared to tell his point guard Tyshawn Taylor “hit me.” So, Taylor bumped his coach and Kidd spilled his soda all over the court. While the spill was cleaned up, the Nets were able to draw up a final play even though they had no timeouts remaining.
One day later, Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin was center stage. Late in the third quarter, the Ravens’ Jacoby Jones was running back a kickoff. As the Baltimore burner streaked down the sideline he found Tomlin right in his path. Tomlin actually had one foot on the field of play. As Jones approached, Tomlin jumped out of the way, but the move slowed Jones down and he was tackled short of pay dirt. NFL rules do give officials the power to award a touchdown in such instances but that did not happen on this Thanksgiving.
Despite the antics of Kidd and Tomlin, both the Nets and Steelers lost. Both could have easily won though, and each would have been helped greatly by physical moves from non-players.
Are these moves crafty and old-school or are they dirty and unsportsmanlike?
The short answer is probably – all of the above.
There is a huge difference between these two cases. The Kidd move would probably fall more into the gamesmanship category while Tomlin’s move is the more serious offense. With Kidd, who’s already been hit with a stiff $50,000 fine for his pop flop, the NBA can always assess technical fouls, thus allowing the other team to add points. Better yet, they should institute a time run-off in these situations. Either way, the remedies are there.
Tomlin’s game of footsie is a different animal. Yes, a score could be awarded, but if it isn’t the game becomes tainted and fans, players, and the league are up in arms. What players need to do is start policing things themselves. If a coach is brazen enough to jump on the field, don’t try to avoid him…run him over. Run him over like Mike “Mad Dog” Curtis ran over that drunk fan who tried to grab the football from the field back in 1971. Flatten him. Then see if he attempts it again.
Back in the early days of the NFL it’s been said that Chicago Bears coach George Halas had dogs ready to go in the locker room from time to time. If his Bears ran out of timeouts and he needed them, Halas released the hounds. Literally.
It’s been well publicized that Red Auerbach used to make the accommodations for certain Celtics’ opponents less than desirable. Turning off the hot water in the Lakers locker room became a staple move for old Red.
We chuckle at those stories today. They are part of sports lore. But, we are picking and choosing what’s considered cheating and what’s just jockeying for the upper hand.
Baseball folks complain and whine about steroid use seemingly 24-7, yet many of these same people find the spit balls and scuff balls of years past just fine. The same writers who despise Barry Bonds elected Gaylord Perry and Phil Niekro to the Hall of Fame.