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Warriors go to war

I don’t know exactly when it was that the Golden State Warriors made a heel turn, when they went from America’s favorite basketball team to classic anti-heroes. But at least for me, the Warriors have long lost their lovable persona marked by up-tempo, high scoring roundball, one that had kids from all over the country sporting Steph Curry jerseys and celebrating the 3-point shot over the more glorious athletic play of megastars like Lebron James and Michael Jordan. While Golden State’s dynasty of winning four NBA titles since 2015 places them among history’s greatest, especially in the age of rapid-fire free agency, their grip of America’s fancy has likely faded a bit.

Perhaps no one has contributed more to that descent than mercurial Golden State forward Draymond Green, who plays the role of enforcer that’s fairly common in championship teams. Green walks the line between physical and dirty play, much in the tradition of Bill Laimbeer and Dennis Rodman and pretty much half of the ’94 Knicks squad, someone who’s efficacy is measured by their ability to disrupt the other team and allow his own prolific teammates to shine. Green is perhaps the wings beneath Steph Curry and Klay Thompson’s wings, which has served them well over their championship stretch.

Only tomorrow, the Warriors will be flying without the benefit of this jetstream, as Draymond Green is suspended from game three of their first-round playoff series against Sacramento, a series Golden State trails 2 games to 0 as they face a must-win contest in San Francisco. Green was suspended for essentially stepping on the chest of Sacramento center Domantas Sabonis, a move that admittedly was made after Sabonis grabbed Green’s foot after a change of possession. Both received technicals, and Green was ejected from the game, something that undoubtably contributed to the final score. After reviewing the game, the League rendered its suspension not only because of that play, but also because of Green’s history of unsportsmanlike acts. Meaning this isn’t the first time. In fact, this will be the fourth suspension of his NBA career, stemming from 164 technicals, 17 ejections, and two flagrant fouls in 11 seasons. That, as they say, is a considerable body of work.

There will be a fair amount of arguing about whether Green should have received the penalty he did on a couple of grounds. First, some might say that it wasn’t all that bad, and Sabonis egged him on anyway. I don’t buy much of that argument, assuming we can agree that you shouldn’t step on another person’s chest. Second, some might say that you shouldn’t suspend players during the playoffs, or at least there should be a separate litmus than during the regular season. It’s the same argument that’s given about calling a foul at the end of a game. Again, that’s a much easier argument to make if it’s a technicality – not actually stomping on a player’s chest. Realistically, ignoring egregious behavior is a slippery slope for a professional sports league.

The bigger question here isn’t whether or not Draymond Green deserves the suspension – and he does. The question is whether the role of enforcer, one Green has embraced wholeheartedly, is a net positive in elite sports. There’s plenty of examples of where brute force have helped NBA teams to titles – or near so. Dennis Rodman and Bill Laimbeer changed the trajectory of playoff series by pressing the boundaries of the rules and pushing opposing players out of their comfort zone. Karl Malone largely bullied players into submission – although John Stockton was likely the dirtier of the pair. As Pat Riley used to say when he coached the intentionally aggressive NY Knicks, they can’t call every foul.

But clearly, there is a line, perhaps one that’s moved quite a bit in the star driven, intensely athletic world of the modern NBA. Where it once was accepted that you might get hurt if you dribbled down the lane, especially in the playoffs, it seems less tolerable when that player is worth as much as the team itself. And particularly in an age where plays live an extended afterlife on social media, the evergreen impact of excessive violence is far greater than in the analogue era. Which is why is much harder for the NBA to ignore Green’s obvious transgression, and why Draymond Green’s cumulative behavior was a lot easier to consider in rendering basketball justice.

Does the NBA have room for players like Draymond Green anymore? Probably not. Although he is still good for a classic heel turn.

Keith Strudler is the director of the School of Communication and Media at Montclair State University. You can follow him on twitter at @KeithStrudler

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

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