NBA draws stark contrast with penalties Fines, suspensions often inconsistent


Kenny Anderson will not play basketball for at least two weeks, probably longer, because of a broken bone in his left wrist. The perpetrator, John Starks, is out $5,000, with no time off for lousy behavior.

And Rod Thorn, the NBA's man in charge of sitting in his Fifth Avenue office and staring at videotape, will call this another splendid example of the way the league "protects its players." Believe it or not, the player being protected here turns out to be Kenny Anderson.

What's missing in Thorn's ruling -- a slap on both of Stark's healthy wrists -- is a little bit of consistency.

Last year, during the playoffs, Starks was punished for a Game 6 flagrant foul on Chicago's Scottie Pippen. That one broke nothing -- although it was seen on national TV, and the NBA must worry that some viewers might mistake playoff basketball for wrestling -- but the penalty was the price of a broken wrist, $5,000.

The same series, Chicago coach Phil Jackson was fined $2,500 for saying rotten things about the officials. And last month, if you're still wondering what happened to consistency, Pippen and Michael Jordan were fined for the heinous crime of failing to attend a news conference before the All-Star Game. The league relieved them each of $10,000.

And for breaking a wrist, the NBA has this one-day special of $5,000. Who wouldn't shop at that store? Or push the next body that races by?

Right now, the penalty for any flagrant foul is a mystery until the league announces it. So when Anderson went up for a clear layup against the Knicks on Sunday, and was pushed by Starks, followed by the ref's whistle, Thorn's choices were simple: fine and suspension, fine and dandy (no suspension), or none of the above.

Willis Reed, the Nets' vice-president/GM, a not-disinterested party, would add this possibility: an eye-for-a-wrist. "If a guy gets hurt," Reed said yesterday, "if a guy's going to be out three weeks, make the other guy sit out three weeks, too."

Reed, a member of the league's competition committee, says he delivered that same strong point of view at the committee's last meeting. He said he wasn't alone. "We'll be pushing it forward," he said, "and I think we'll get some changes. Otherwise, you won't stop all that."

The tooth-and-eye crowd has been around even longer than Red Holzman, but it's hard to imagine that penalty system going into effect. Because if that's the rule, why wouldn't the Knicks find somebody, who doesn't figure to score nearly as many points, to put a hammer against Michael Jordan's knees? The recommendation here is Bo Kimble.

"Hogwash," is Phil Jackson's word. The Bulls' coach says, "You just can't have eye-for-an-eye in this kind of game. This is a game of contact. You have to live with that part of it. Players are going to trip on somebody's foot, sprain an ankle, hurt a knee. Those are inadvertent accidents."

Thorn said he watched Starks push Anderson, over and over, "and it deserved a fine, but I couldn't ascertain that he was trying to hurt him." The push, he decided, "was not egregious enough to deserve a suspension."

It's his VCR, his eyes, his ruling, and the Nets can't say much more than gosh-darn it. They will play at least seven and maybe nine games, maybe more, without their star point guard. "That could be devastating for our franchise," Reed said yesterday. "That injury could cost us millions of dollars."

He was talking about the playoffs. If the season ends today, the Nets have the home-court edge in the first round. If that helped them earn the second round, "that would be a tremendous step for us," said Reed, whose team hasn't seen the second round since 1984. "Now we may have all of that taken away."

Pushed away, I thought.

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