Dallas Mavericks forward Kristaps Porzingis faces his second off-court controversy in recent months as a 32-second video of a bloodied Porzingis standing outside a bar raises new questions about his judgment and behavior.
The video shows the 23-year-old Latvian star shoving a woman who had attempted to restrain an angered (and much larger) Porzingis. Porzingis then hastily walked toward people standing nearby—including a police officer who visibly tried to calm Porzingis down. While walking, Porzingis is shown speaking angrily and pointing his fingers in different directions. He reportedly tells an unidentified person, “I’ll send your a-- back to Russia.”
Many details from the incident are contained in uncorroborated and unreliable accounts. That said, it appears the altercation occurred over the weekend. The bar in question is also thought to be located in Porzingis’s hometown of Liepaja, Latvia. Not much else is known with a high degree of certainty.
The Mavericks have released a statement indicating that the team currently believes Porzingis was a victim of an assault. “It is our understanding,” the statement reads, “that Kristaps was jumped and assaulted outside of a club in Latvia.” On Twitter, Knicks fan page Knicks Film School translated comments attributed to Porzingis. Per the translation, Porzingis allegedly insists that he was hit in the head by an iron chair and that his hand was injured in the accompanying melee. Shams Charania of The Athleticreports that the Mavericks have launched an investigation into the altercation.
At this early stage, the Mavericks’ only source of information might be Porzingis and his representatives—hardly a neutral set of narrators given that they are incentivized to portray Porzingis as completely innocent. The team and its legal counsel will likely act quickly to interview Porzingis and ask him to answer detailed questions. Mavericks officials could also consult their contacts in Baltic states for any intel that they might have gathered. Further, the team could hire private investigators in Latvia to independently assess what occurred. Such assessment would include interviews with bar employees and other eyewitnesses.
The available video does not show Porzingis jumped or attacked, but it does display him with a bloody gash above his right eye. His shirt appears to be torn, as well. ESPN reports that the supposed assailants are a group of Russian citizens, who TMZ says were angered by the fact that Porzingis is no longer a member of the New York Knicks.
It’s unclear why anyone would attack Porzingis for no longer being on the Knicks, particularly when he left the team due to a trade. It remains to be seen if that noticeably benign narrative holds up under further scrutiny or if other explanations surface and more convincingly explain what happened and why.
The fact that a police officer appears to have been on the scene suggests that local law enforcement officers are investigating. Any investigation would include conversations with witnesses and evaluation of the role played by possible drunkenness. There is no indication that anyone involved in the incident was criminally charged or will be charged, but that could change quickly if the investigation uncovers incriminating evidence. It’s also possible that Porzingis could be sued civilly, particularly by the woman he shoved (it’s unknown if she suffered any physical injuries or psychological distress).
Porzingis has attracted controversy at an ill-opportune time in his NBA career. He hasn’t played in an NBA game since tearing the ACL in his left knee on Feb. 6, 2018 and he will become a restricted free agent on July 1. Media reports suggest the Mavericks are pleased with Porzingis’s health and intend to sign him to a five-year max contract. However, it’s unknown if Porzingis’s off-court issues might give the Mavericks pause for concern. As recently detailed on The Crossover, Porzingis faces accusations of raping and beating a woman in New York City last year. Porzingis has not been charged with a crime over the allegation. He insists that the accuser is attempting to illegally extort him.
Factors for Adam Silver to weigh
While the Mavericks launch an investigation into the Latvian bar fight, expect the NBA to do its own probing. NBA commissioner Adam Silver has wide discretion to punish a player for off-court conduct when that conduct is damaging to the league’s brand. Under Article 35 of the league’s constitution, Silver can suspend players for any “conduct that does not conform to standards of morality or fair play, that does not comply at all times with all federal, state, and local laws, or that is prejudicial or detrimental to the NBA.”
By itself, a bar fight in which Porzingis may have been the victim might not animate Silver to issue a punishment. Silver knows that NBA players, like other pro athletes, are sometimes targeted for harassment while they are out in public. Especially at 7’3", Porzingis is instantly recognizable. It’s also possible that international relations and national pride played roles. As mentioned above, Porzingis is quoted as yelling “I’ll send your a-- back to Russia.” Latvia, which became an independent state in 1918, was forcibly annexed into the Soviet Union in 1940. Thousands of Latvians were then identified as political opponents to the Stalinist government and deported to gulags in Siberia and elsewhere. Latvia regained independence after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. To the extent Porzingis’s altercation stems from any ill will between the peoples of the region, Silver might be more forgiving.
On the other hand, Silver has at least three reasons to contemplate a punishment.
First, even if Porzingis was truly a victim of an unprovoked assault, he is shown on the video shoving a woman out of his way. She did not appear to pose any threat to Porzingis, so a “self-defense” argument doesn’t seem credible. Also, violence suffered by Porzingis was over by that point. Silver might find the portion of the video where Porzingis shoves the woman detrimental to the league’s image.
Second, Silver might reason that players needs to be more mindful of the circumstances in which they find themselves. If players know they are likely to become targets for provocation and agitation in certain situations, they might be wise to avoid those situations or at least hire security guards to create distance between themselves and any harassers. Silver probably wouldn’t punish a player for being in the “wrong place at the wrong time” but he might counsel that player to weigh how bar fights and similar incidents can risk injury and humiliation. Sometimes the best move is to simply walk way. As mentioned above, one report suggests that Porzingis may have suffered a hand injury.
Third, Silver will likely weigh the fact that a video of Porzingis has gone viral. In today’s world, where anyone with a smartphone can quickly hit record and upload videos to the Internet, celebrities need to be restrained before publicly acting in divisive and aggressive ways. This is particularly true for someone like Porzingis, whose multi-year shoe deal with Adidas reportedly pays him between $3 million and $6 million a year. The contract almost certainly contains a morals clause that would empower Adidas to exit the contract on account of Porzingis bring disrepute on himself.
Michael McCann is SI’s legal analyst. He is also an attorney and founding director of the Sports and Entertainment Law Institute at the University of New Hampshire School of Law.