(center) is averaging 12.7 points and nine rebounds this season. (The Washington Post/Getty Images)
Wizards center Marcin Gortat, son of an Olympic medalist boxer, would like the opportunity to handle in-game disagreements with opponents by using his fists.
In a TrueHoop interview, Gortat suggests that the NBA should adopt the NHL's approach to managing fights by instructing the referees to step back and let two players settle their differences by engaging in a mano-a-mano brawl.
"I would say I would loosen up a little bit the rules about the fighting fines. That’s what I would loosen up. Because today you go to an ice hockey game, and the one thing they’re waiting for is a fight, you know what I’m saying? So if they could set it up something like that in the NBA. That if there are two guys and they have a problem, if they could just separate everybody. And these two people that have problem, if they could fight ...
"During the game. Quick, 15-20 seconds, throw few punches, then referees jump in and break this thing up. I think the game ... these two guys, they resolved their problem. They’re both suspended and they’re leaving. But end of the day, they fix the problem between each other, fans are super excited, and I think that would be a pretty cool idea [chuckles]."
Gortat, whose father, Janusz, won bronze medals for Poland at the 1972 and 1976 Olympics, added that he was "definitely going to mention this in the players' meeting."
Even if the National Basketball Players Association was a fully-functioning entity, which it won't be until it finally gets around to naming an executive director, it goes without saying that Gortat's plan is at odds with a decades-long attempt by the NBA to "clean up" the league's image by taking a harsh stand against on-court incidents.
Here are a few of the league's mandates that aim to restrict on-court altercations, in no particular order, many of which came to the forefront after the "Malice at the Palace" incident.
- The NBA has made "punching" an automatic ejection and has tacked on additional suspensions on multiple occasions this season in response to punches.
- Players who leave their bench during an altercation are subject to a one-game suspension at minimum.
- Players can be fined for not immediately leaving the court after an ejection.
- Players have been subjected to multigame suspensions for entering the stands.
- Technical fouls can be assessed for merely touching an official or using profanity, and even "griping" is sufficient cause to get T'd up.
- Players who "taunt" opponents can be hit with a technical foul.
- Players who "escalate" ongoing on-court altercations are subject to ejections and suspensions.
- Hard fouls to a player's head area, even if not delivered in "punch" form, are regularly whistled as flagrant fouls and can lead to ejections.
- Repeat rules-violators are often subjected to harsher suspensions and fines than first-time offenders.
Those are some of the obvious rules that would need to be rewritten, eliminated or reconsidered if Gortat's ideas were to be taken seriously. There's also the matter of the league's relatively new concussion policy, which requires players who sustain head injuries go through a full evaluation by a league-mandated, independent doctor before they are cleared to return to the court. The league proved its commitment to that policy when it fined Pelicans coach Monty Williams for his public criticism of the new concussion protocol.
"They treat everybody like they have white gloves and pink drawers and it’s getting old," Williams said after the NBA ruled out Anthony Davis after a head injury. "It’s just the way the league is now.”
Gortat might very well look around the league and come to that same "this place is soft" conclusion, what with players flopping to gain an advantage, or trash-talking and shoving during scrums, knowing that no true reprisal is coming because the penalties for retaliation are too harsh. His "Let's get ready to rumble" solution to these problems would surely be to his advantage as a 6-foot-11 center nicknamed "Polish Hammer," and the concept is somewhat humorous to consider. That is, at least until one remembers the horrifying 1977 incident in which Kermit Washington punched Rudy Tomjanovich in the face, fracturing his skull and nearly killing him.
That play changed both players' lives forever and stands as the perpetual reminder of what can happen when there are no pads, gloves and helmets in the equation, when there's no icy surface to limit one's mobility and when players who are trained for a regulated sport suddenly find themselves in a free-for-all environment. Although it might sometimes seem like the NBA has too many rules, the league's strict framework for handling player disputes was established for the very best of reasons. Enduring the absurdity of the average NBA fight -- the almost scripted jostling and jawing that invariably winds up being a waste of time -- is a small price to pay compared to what might result if bare-knuckled brawling became a regular occurrence.