Step aside, Kevin Garnett.
Although you have gained a hard earned reputation as the NBA's leading 'bad-boy,' your rough-and-tough image has been threatened. Even though you, Mr. Garnett, have sent many a violent elbow swing toward the body of your opponent throughout your NBA career, frequently drop jaw-droppingly crude in-game profanity that would make Tony Soprano blush, and attempt to sway referee opinion through intimidation tactics that would certainly get a raised eyebrow from police officers anywhere outside of an NBA arena, you are no longer the NBA's leading thug.
You have been de-throned. Yes, indeed. The NBA has decreed that you have been dethroned by a despicably violent monster, fully equipped with huge, scary muscles and a fuming temper that incites utter terror on a parquet floor.
Only thing is, this monster that has taken your throne is, well, in reality not very despicable, violent, or fuming. Although he does have muscles of steel and will block the hell out of any weak sauce shot in the paint, the new NBA 'thug' tends to smile while doing so.
Huh? A smiling thug?
Yes, basketball fans, the new leading man of NBA thuggery is a happy, smiling, charitable Christian who is often busy pranking his teammates and is always eager to spout off his best impressions the likes of Arnold Schwarzenegger, Charles Barkley and Stan Van Gundy to anyone that will listen.
Sheer terror. Get the sheriff's office on standby; who knows when this horrifying thug is going to snap.
All sarcasm aside, Dwight Howard, who at some point has become 'enemy #1' to NBA officials, picked up his 18th technical foul for the season last night in Charlotte, putting him 3 fouls ahead of the second most foul-getters Amare Stoudemire and Stephen Jackson. Furthermore, if you consider that Dwight had four other technical fouls rescinded by the league office already, referees have actually whistled Howard for a grand total of 22 technical fouls this season.
Although I tend to write off fans who perpetually whine about refereeing, placing all blame for their favorite team's poor performances upon the shoulders of NBA officials, I cannot help but raise my eyebrow about the league's growing tendency to T-up Howard with little hesitation, fueling Dwight's evolution into an image as a seemingly dirty player because of his technical foul baggage.
Now, do not get me wrong: I am in no way saying that Dwight Howard is an innocent choir boy, playing angelically on the basketball court. He has had some very deserving technical fouls, including a retaliation elbow swing at Chicago's Kyle Korver earlier this year, even though his swing did come after three quarters of arguably violent abuse from various Bulls players.
But getting whistled for 22 technical fouls? Really? LeBron James, rather than walk away after a foul is called, has made a career habit of getting in the face of NBA officials to argue about "bad" calls. Lebron's technical foul total this season? 6, exactly 1/3 of Dwight's official total of 18.
Add to the mix that, as Stan Van Gundy brought up in a press conference last month, Dwight Howard had been fouled 593 times as of March 10th. The total number of those 593 hacks on Dwight Howard's body that were called as "flagrant fouls?" None. I am no conspiracy theorist, but come on... This statistic, in my opinion, is quite damning for the NBA, suggesting that the league might, in fact, specifically referee Dwight differently than other players.
Now, criticism about technical foul issues is definitely not new. By simply hearing the phrase "technical foul," many remember the ridiculous image of Joey Crawford giving Tim Duncan two T's for laughing on the bench, ejecting him from the game. Crawford was suspended for the rest of that season for the incident, but, amazingly, was welcomed back to officiate NBA games the following year. In my opinion, after that show of blatent ineptitude for the rules of the game, Crawford should have been shown the door for good, taken out of the NBA officiating circle permanently. After all, the Association still has egg on its face in the aftermath of the Tim Donaghy scandal a few years ago. As a result, one would think the NBA would be overly critical of its officials, observing refereeing tendencies with a microscope to ensure any potential bias is squelched. Yet, even
Yet, for some reason, Dwight Howard has become a lightning rod for referees in recent seasons. I do not know how he assumed the "dirty player" image. In fact, many experts actually critique Howard's jovial persona on the court, arguing that he will never reach elite NBA status because he is too soft and doesn't play aggressive enough.
So which is it, National Basketball Association? Is Dwight Howard a brash, scary, out-of-control 18-technical foul laden monster or an unprofessional, unfocused amateur who will never be truly elite because he laughs too much and is just not serious enough?
Now, to add fuel to this brewing fire, after watching recent games, as the technical fouls have piled up, NBA officials have magically dusted off a long-ignored, seldom enforced league rule that penalizes free throw shooters who take too much time during a visit to the charity stripe. The regulation states that a player must take a free throw within 10 seconds on the line, or else the player forfeits his chance to shoot.
Guess who has brought this buried rule back to relevance? You guessed it: D12.
Howard is definitely guilty of the 10 second rule. I watched a lot of basketball, and I think Dwight has the longest free throw routine I have ever seen. Ever. But, if the league is going to enforce this rule, doesn't the NBA have an obligation to hold all players responsible for shooting free throws in a timely fashion? Dwight has been called for this penalty twice in two games, plus an additional call in December against Boston. I think it says something when 26 year broadcasting veteran and former NBA head coach Hubie Brown tells the viewing audience that he had "never seen [the 10 second penalty] in any game he'd ever done."
I am all for the NBA enforcing rules. Just enforce all rules across the board, holding every player accountable regardless of superstar status or team. In fact, I actually think the league has gone in the wrong direction regarding traveling violations, opting to take a more lenient approach when players take an extra step or slightly lift a pivot foot. Especially if your name is LeBron James or Carmelo Anthony, referees mysteriously turn a blind eye to traveling penalties.
Also, a NBA rule is actually in place that is supposed to penalize players who flop, looking to draw a foul. I do not know about you, but I cannot recall ever seeing the master flopper himself, Anderson Varejao, getting called out for his Oscar-worthy flopping performances and tacked with a technical foul, the league's prescribed penalty. Even NBA superstar Paul Pierce has had quite a few ridiculous, overly dramatic flops that are very reminiscient of the acting jobs put on by some professional soccer players.
Bottom line: if you are going to call a particular penalty, Dwayne Wade should be officiated the same way as Earl Clark. Not doing so just takes the league back down a path of biased refereeing, perfected by Tim Donaghy.
I think it is odd that Howard is individually getting a lot of attention from NBA officials. Perhaps too much. While referees understandably do miss calls and have to make split second value judgements for penalties, Dwight has been called out a lot. Perhaps officials have trouble figuring out how to referee because Dwight is legitimately so much better than the league's other centers, looking at Dwight with a different standard because he is so difficult to stop.
But, Dwight does not play like a player who has 18 technical fouls under his belt. In my opinion, if a guy tallies 18 T's, the fouls should be well-deserved, legitimately forming an image as a tough, dirty player. Think Rasheed Wallace, who once collected an incredible 41 technical fouls in one season before the league instated the suspension rule at 16 T's. I think most would agree that Dwight's style of play is quite different than 'Sheed's.
In a league that came under so much scrunity in the early 2000s as an organization plagued with an image as a league riddled with no-good thuggish criminals, one would naturally think that a smiling, religiously faithful superstar would be a desirable role model that the NBA would fawn over to improve its image.
18 technical fouls would say otherwise.
Dwight definitely is not a thug in that respect. He is not actively trying to mix things up or get in trouble with other players. But he has vented his frustration too much with the officials and that has been a major problem. Brian Schmitz wrote a decent commentary on it in the Orlando Sentinel today. I agree Howard is not doing anything particularly egregious, but he is also not wholly innocent either. Something has to change, and clearly the refs are not going to be the ones doing it.