Blake Griffin and other NBA Punchers

This week, the Clippers revealed that Blake Griffin broke his hand fighting with the team’s assistant strength coach.  The details are sketchy but, according to a Los Angeles Times report, Griffin and the coach are good friends and that the two got into an argument over teasing while out to dinner in Toronto.  Griffin is expected to be out somewhere in the neighborhood of six weeks.

It is hard to give any sharp insight into this incident.  Griffin was wrong to pound on a smaller man and is wrong to jeopardize his and the team’s season by breaking his hand over a really stupid matter.  While the Clippers are playing really well without Griffin, he is obviously vital to the team come playoff time.  In the meantime, the Clipps won’t actually be hurt too badly because they are basically stuck in the four seed (above the Grizz/Mavs but below the Thunder) and it’s unlikely (though not impossible) the Griffin’s presence or lack thereof will change that.  Ultimately, it appears the Clipps whole season will come down to a second round match up against the Warriors either way and the Griffin matter will probably be forgotten quickly.

On a grander scheme, have we seen a dumber punch thrown by an NBA player off the court?  There have been some dramatic and senseless violent punches (see the Kermit Washington punch) on the court but few players have hurt themselves and their teams in such a senseless low stakes moment.  Putting aside on court fights, where things happen during competition, this Griffin punch has to be up there on the scale of stupidity.

Before we declare Griffin to have suffered the dumbest fight related injury, there are a few more we should consider.  This will also serve to remind us that dumb decisions have existed as long as people have gotten angry with little reason.  Here are a few others:

-Amare v. Fire Extinguisher:  In the first round of the 2011-12 playoffs, the Knicks faced off with a second seeded Heat team.  The Knicks were pumped to be in the playoffs, though they had little chance of beating LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh in their primes.   This point was hammered home when the Heat won the first two games by 33 and 10 point respectively.

After the second game, on the way into the tunnel, Amare, in frustration punched the glass casing for the fire extinguisher and sliced up his hand, causing him to miss the rest of the season (which Miami won 4-1).   Was this more forgivable than Griffin’s move?  Well, Amare’s frustration was at least team- related.  On the other side of the ledger, there is little upside to punching a very sharp inanimate object.  Moreover, Stoudemire missed the rest of a playoff series and not just regular season games.  True, the Knicks weren’t going to win the series but that was a time when his team really needed him.  So, Stoudemire’s timing makes his injury worse (decision-wise) than Griffin’s.

-Rod Strickland v. A Texas Bar:  Rod Strickland was an excellent player but had some “impulse control” issues much of his younger years (for example, he threw a punch at Drazen Petrovic during a Game 7 in 1990).  In February 1991, Strickland broke his hand in a fight outside a San Antonio nightclub.  There really are no details on the incident but Strick was recovered well before the playoffs.  This specific incident, by itself, is about on a par with Griffin’s (dumb move but not fatal to the team).  Ultimately, Strickland had a bunch of other not so smart incidents, which caused him to be jettisoned by the Spurs.

If we had to choose between Griffin’s and Strickland’s punches, Strickland’s would be rated a little worse because he was apparently fighting a random dude at a club late at night (raising a risk of more serious dangers) and because Strick’s represented but one data point in a long line of bad decisions (Griffin has been relatively clean off the court).  Strickland, for his part, has acknowledged the bad moves of his youth and has moved on to college coaching.

-The Legend v. Bartender:  Before anyone gets too sanctimonious that the players of yore were more levelheaded than guys like Griffin, take a moment before we proceed.  We are here to tell that Larry Bird (gasp) might’ve been dumber on the punch scale than Blake.  In fact, Larry Bird likely hurt his hand punching a bartender in May 1985.   Details are hazy but apparently Bird had a bad index figure, which probably didn’t help Boston when the lost to the Lakers in the NBA Finals shortly after the incident (the fight occurred on an off day in the Conference Finals against the Sixers).  Bird settled a lawsuit out of court with the bartender and the incident (i.e. why it happened and whether Bird was hurt) remains shrouded in mystery.

Bird’s stats for the nine playoff games after the incident were: 22.2 ppg, .435 FG%, 8.0 rpg 5.1 apg (in 40 mpg).  This was significantly worse than his season averages: 28.7 ppg, .522 FG%, 10.5 rpg, 6.6 apg (in 39.5 mpg).  It’s hard to say that his worse play was due to the hand (most players typically play a little worse against the best playoff teams).  In “The Last Banner,”  Peter May wrote that the injury was merely a rumor that he would not confirm and “[w]hether or not he was hurt [from punching the bartender] was something else, and the intensely private Bird was so furious about media reports of the incident that he stopped talking to Boston reporters at home.”

So, it’s inconclusive if this fight cost the Celtics a title.  Suffice it to say if LeBron had ever gotten into a fight in a bar late in the playoff run and may have hurt his hand, the world would go crazy these days.  In the case of Bird, no matter what the details, the timing of the incident makes it worse than the Griffin’s current problem.

At the end of the day, Amare, Strick, and Bird do not excuse Griffin but it definitely gives us a little perspective on decision making.  Remember, take a breath next time someone really angers you.

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