(Update: the NBA has fined Ibaka $25,000 for the incident. Further analysis and Twitter reactions below.)
Serge Ibaka is reportedly not going to be suspended for tonight's game against the Lakers. As Sports Illustrated writer Chris Mannix reports:
No suspension coming for Serge Ibaka, I'm told. Fine only for the crotch shot on Blake Griffin.— Chris Mannix (@ChrisMannixSI) March 5, 2013
Speculation had been circling for the past two days as to whether Ibaka's foul on Blake Griffin, originally (and after review) was called a flagrant-1, could be upgraded to a higher penalty by the league office.
Mannix believes, and it is certainly reasonable to expect, that Ibaka will receive a hefty fine for his assault on Griffin's gentle-jewels, but apparently after what I'm sure was an exhaustive review of the tape (which likely resulted in every man in the office hissing through their teeth for the duration), Ibaka's actions and later explanation were enough justification to abide by the referee's original call:
"He hit my hands away," Ibaka told reporters. "He's strong, so when he grabs you, your jersey or whatever, and you try to defend yourself and rebound. So maybe you can do some move, not to hurt, (but) just to get good position. But then something happens where you get hurt in the paint. It's not anything where I want to try to hurt him. I'm not that kind of person. I just try to play hard, and that's it."
I'm sure Clippers fans agree wholeheartedly.
As for me, following Kobe Bryant's assessment of the theories of cause and effect, I'm inclined to agree with this great tweet:
David Stern has decided to NOT suspend Serge Ibaka against the Lakers citing "I want to see what Kobe does, too" reasons.— Not Bill Walton (@NotBillWalton) March 5, 2013
UPDATE: The league has announced that Ibaka has been fined $25,000 for the incident. Ibaka is on the final year of his rookie contract, so under those calculations a one game suspension would have been about $27.5k. According to Sam Amick, the foul was also upgraded to a flagrant-2 foul:
NBA fines OKC's Serge Ibaka $25,000 for his below-the-belt hit on Clippers' Blake Griffin. Flagrant One upgraded to Flagrant Two.— Sam Amick (@sam_amick) March 5, 2013
On the surface, it would seem that the fine is equitable (but not punitive), as Ibaka would lose approximately the same amount of money as if he were suspended. However, there is a fundamental difference between a hefty fine and a suspension, as a suspension can cause massive ripple effects that can play out in a number of unintended consequences. An Ibaka ejection in the Clippers win might have resulted in a loss, or a suspension tonight against the Lakers could result both in OKC getting a lower seed while the Lakers might sneak into the playoffs.
The biggest glaring dilemma around all of this is the arbitrariness of it all (which, as an attorney, I have to say that it makes the NBA resemble our own jurisprudence in a way that makes me queasy). To get a sense as to how random and arbitrary that fines and suspensions have become, take a look at some of the tweets that have been pouring out since the Ibaka decision was handed down.
re: Dwyane Wade by his teammate LeBron James:
So explain to me the difference? My teammate gets a 1 game suspension and 150k+ taking away from him for his groin altercation #strangetome— LeBron James (@KingJames) March 5, 2013
re: the Spurs
Really, Stern? Spurs got fined $250k for resting players, yet Serge Ibaka gets fined just $25k for hitting Blake Griffin below the belt? BS.— Joe Bendiez (@JoeBendiez) March 5, 2013
re: Stephen Curry
re: Lance Stephenson
Serge Ibaka gets $25k for purposely punching BG in the nuts. Still can't figure out how Lance Stephenson got $35k....— Hayden Weaver (@HAYDENparker22) March 5, 2013
re: Steve Blake
Steve Blake was fined $25,000 for swearing at a fan. Serge Ibaka was fined $25,000 for punching a player in the groin. Doesn't make sense— Mark Medina (@MarkG_Medina) March 5, 2013
Lastly, Griffin's teammate Matt Barnes has taken to Twitter to voice his anger, and it will be very interesting to see how lenient the league is regarding Barnes' criticism of the NBA's decision:
You can INTENTIONALLY grab or hit someone in the balls & not get suspended, but you push someone & get suspended. #ImConfused— Matt Barnes (@Matt_Barnes22) March 5, 2013
So if I would have back handed Ibaka, I would have been the only one to get suspended right??????????????????????????— Matt Barnes (@Matt_Barnes22) March 5, 2013
I will offer up one final legal dilemma that the NBA has now brought upon itself. If somehow, as Barnes suggests, a player's reputation carries nearly as much weight as the incident itself, doesn't the Ibaka decision essentially give a player with no blemishes on his record a one-time nut-shot at his personal nemesis, and the only thing he has to fear is a small fine and a little public ridicule?
The story continues to develop...