NBA: Now, the Bullying Association
It seems Donald Sterling was just the tip of a rather ugly iceberg.=
Lost amidst his caustic, racist remarks was the demeaning misogyny of demanding a woman do exactly what a man commands: ugly bullying, with all the power of wealth and fame and fortune behind it. And if you don’t believe it’s bullying, look what Sterling did when called on the carpet to the proverbial principal’s office: he claimed first he didn’t really do it, then argued it was an out-of-character moment, and ultimately never took responsibility.
Good for Adam Silver for taking care of such a bully. Now, he needs to do the same with Lance Stephenson.
Watching Game 5 of the NBA’s Eastern Conference Finals should have been a delight; in the end, it was a down-to-the wire game with all the tension and tribulation appropriate for playoff basketball. But the greatness of the game was ruined not just by the bullying—yes, we need to call it that—of Lance Stephenson, but also by the utter indifference (and sometimes celebration) of his teammates and coaches, the ESPN analysts, and a fieldhouse full of fans.
There is no doubt that Lance Stephenson is bullying LeBron James. It is not that King James is the world’s most vulnerable victim; hardly. But the Indiana Pacers player is displaying all the classic signs of bullying: publicly picking out one person for persecution; standing menacingly where he doesn’t belong; and even—ridiculously—pushing the limits of physical intimacy by breathing in LeBron’s ear in the sight of thousands of spectators.
But the problem with bullying, we all should know, is not the bullies alone. Bullies like Lance Stephenson exist, and will continue to populate our world. What our young people are being taught, what we should understand, and what the NBA needs to grasp is that the biggest problem with bullying today are those who witness it.
There are countless culprits of the crime that schoolkids appropriately call “by-standing”. To begin with, it is arguable the Referees job it to maintain order on the court and to keep players safe; if a fan descended from the stands and did any of the things Stephenson did, they would be ejected from the arena and apprehended. The referees stood silently, tolerating it all without even a technical.
The Pacers—as a team and coaching staff—are also guilty of standing idly by bullying. A coach is supposed to bring out the best in a player; does Frank Vogel have that low an estimation of his forward that he believes such ugliness is all Stephenson has to offer? Did any of Stephenson’s teammates step forward to move him away from the Miami bench, to ask him to stop scowling, literally to pull him away from LeBron when he was bumping him after seemingly every whistle? It seems the Pacers aren’t ashamed to win at any cost.
Imagine what would have happened if Paul George told Stephenson to stop; Roy Hibbert had opportunities publicly to pull Stephenson aside and say “enough is enough”. But that didn’t happen. Instead, the culture of bullying was center stage, even celebrated. Pacers fans cheered on these intentionally intimidating antics, letting Lance—and everyone watching—see how great are the potential rewards of being a big bully. Worse, the analysts missed almost every chance to bemoan this menacing behavior; Jeff Van Gundy even escalated the situation, explaining that if Stephenson came over to his bench, he would have his players physically send them a message. What a shame for my all-time favorite coach to argue for meeting the violence of bullying with only more violence.
During the final quarter of the game, ESPN predicted that Lance Stephenson would face a $5,000 fine for “flopping”, pretending there is a foul where none exists. Ironically, the NBA—one if its emerging stars, its top-ranked Eastern Conference team, its analysts and offices—are likely to prove themselves guilty of precisely the opposite offense: they are pretending there is no foul behavior where it clearly exists.
Now is the time for the NBA to stand up and show the world—it players, coaches, fans, and especially children—that it will not stand idly by the blatant offense of bullying.