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Sportsmanship or Gamesmanship?

NBA basketball has rules. They were instilled for the safety of the players and to provide a level standard of play for both teams. We all know the rules are not strictly enforced and much is left to the discretion of the officials - for example, hand-checking, "star" treatment, home-crowd pressure and downright bias against certain players.

There is another category of intentional rules violation we are also well aware of which usually takes place in close quarters, behind the official's back. These are the elbows in the kidneys or knees to the groin intended to inflict pain and send a message. Think Bill Laimbeer or Karl Malone...as extreme examples. Less extreme examples might include anything from verbal threats to spitting on an opponent.

One of the indictments against our current team has been a lack of toughness. My subject for your discussion includes these questions: Is there a place within the game for these sometimes-not-so-subtle physical suggestions? Can a line be drawn between "competitive spirit" and "covert flagrant foul"? If so, where is that line? Can these acts be included in an attitude of toughness? Is it a level playing field if one team strives to play strictly within the rules? Is there a classy way to play a little bit dirty? The questions could go on...

I'd love to get your input on this matter.

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