Peer mediation: Rifts pose threat to NBA’s future growth

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Remember way back in October when the Chicago Bulls suspended Bobby Portis for throwing a punch and injuring teammate Nikola Mirotic in practice?

I can honestly say I do, because it was such a ridiculous preseason story, and I was particularly alarmed by the fact that a scuffle took place between two players of the same team.

My memory of the event, however, has been clouded by a handful of other fights which have taken place across the league this season.

In one game alone, James Johnson took swings at Serge Ibaka and DeMar DeRozan and Goran Dragić looked ready to square up.

Who can forget Bradley Beal putting Draymond Green in a headlock and taking him to the ground and, of course, the aftermath photo of Green’s jersey torn to shreds? What about the scuffle between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Phoenix Suns, where Lonzo Ball was famously criticized for walking away to avoid a technical foul? Or LeBron James taking issue with a few New York Knicks?

Oh, if that wasn’t enough, Arron Afflalo tried (and failed) to land a haymaker on Nemanja Bjelica in a game, and Gerald Green and Trevor Ariza tried to confront LA Clippers players after a game near the locker room too.

So forgive me if I’ve forgotten a few events. They keep happening, keep escalating and keep worrying me. The last thing the burgeoning brand of the NBA needs is another Malice at the Palace.

The league has grown tremendously in its worldwide presence during the last decade, with one Forbes article suggesting that it will soon overtake the NFL as America’s most popular sports league.

While one fight may be exciting for fans to watch because of its rarity, when the numbers become too big to count, the value of the NBA’s product will decline.

Fans want to watch basketball, not another ripped Nike jersey.

Ultimately, this just looks bad on all sides. The NBA needs to look like a cohesive league so that fans around the world continue to tune in. Not only do players need to have a good working relationship with each other, but they need one with the referees as well.

In addition to the aforementioned fights, the relationship between players and referees has regressed as well, the most notably when Shaun Livingston was suspended earlier this season for butting heads with an official.

Some players, most notably Carmelo Anthony and Green, have heavily criticized the officials for giving players little room to display emotion ─ perhaps in the form of excess physicality ─ on the court, and many referees have simply responded by giving more technical fouls. These differing opinions and lack of transparency have almost certainly contributed to elevated tension on the court.

No one party is solely at fault here. The players need to get their act together as well and realize that there is more than money at stake for these actions.

While most players on an NBA contract can afford the fines the NBA doles out for technical fouls or criticizing the referees, they need to remember that their influence on the game of basketball as a whole extends far beyond the court or locker room and into basketball culture everywhere.

NBA players are role models for so many people worldwide — especially children — that there should be a higher expectation of discipline for them, rather than one where they turn the court into a ring.

If brand image and influence aren’t good enough reasons to keep this nonsensical behavior to a minimum, maybe the lack of logic behind it all is.

I’m sure Metta World Peace might be able to say a thing or two about the consequences of fighting in the NBA. Or ask Rudy Tomjanovich, who was almost killed on the court after taking a punch from Kermit Washington.

There is no apparent central cause as to why these players are fighting each other and the referees, and the violent trend hasn’t (yet) accomplished anything inside the NBA. It simply appears petty.

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver announced that the player-referee relationship will be addressed at All-Star Weekend in February, but I suspect nothing more than harsher penalties and control over player behavior to be exerted as a result.

Player-referee relationships as well those between players need to remain peaceful if the NBA wants to continue its growth and build its brand. And I think I speak for most fans when I say that my inner purist wants basketball back, not the violent nonsense that has largely defined this season.

Figure it out, guys.

Vikram Muller writes the Tuesday column about current events in professional sports. Contact him at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @v_muller26

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