Unpopular opinion alert: I’m not the type of fan who believes that the NBA is out to get the Trail Blazers. I don’t buy into conspiracy theories about biases toward certain teams — the Thunder get their fair share of preference, despite playing in Oklahoma, after all — and I think the referees’ calls generally even out for everyone over the course of the season.
With that in mind, I did not expect to be dismayed at the league’s decision regarding Steph Curry’s (non)-suspension for leaving the bench during a preseason game earlier this month. I assumed I’d watch the clip and it’d be obvious he took half a step onto the court and there would be no real reason to suspend him, beyond obstinate adherence to the letter of the arbitrary NBA rules.
But then I actually saw the incident:
There's no doubt Curry takes several steps toward the altercation, leaving the bench area.
Curry’s move toward the court and into the action would seem to satisfy the NBA’s mandatory one-game suspension rule for leaving the bench during a fight.
The league could kind of give itself an out by saying that he didn’t do anything to escalate the situation so he didn’t violate the spirit of the rule.
Except for one problem with that justification: they suspended CJ McCollum last season for basically the same thing. Here’s the video:
McCollum's (in)action is virtually identical to Curry's -- a couple steps off the bench when a shoving match breaks out nearby before being hustled back.
Quite frankly, suspending McCollum but not Curry reeks of favoritism — there’s no obvious difference between the events.
The NBA’s explanation for this is pretty weak; they tried to claim that the Warriors shoving match didn’t qualify as an “altercation" and so there was no reason to suspend Curry. Chris Haynes also notes that Curry was granted leniency because it was a dead ball situation, but that still makes little sense as McCollum also made his move after a whistle had been blown.
NBA refs have an almost impossibly difficult job. They have to judge in real time while players make almost impossibly fast and athletic moves. Add to that rules which are designed to help out the offenses and it's no surprise they’re missing calls somewhat regularly.
But the league office has no such excuse with these deficiencies — it can review the videos a hundred times in slow motion and use prior precedent to make a decision. There's no excuse for the inconsistent way it handled the McCollum and Curry suspensions.
(Editor’s note: This article was going to be published last Tuesday but we decided to hold off given the circumstances. — Eric)