Each NBA season, right around when we get to the point where the league has handed out about $1.7 million or so in fines, we do the first installment of the “Did He Get His Money’s Worth?” column. It’s an easy thing to understand and a fun thing to do. The way it works is: We comb through all the fines that the NBA assigned (at the moment, there have been 371 total fines for a gross dollar amount of $1,900,285), pick out several that are interesting, then figure out if it was worth or not for the player to pick up said fine. So that’s what we’re going to do. First, though, a “Did He Get His Money’s Worth?” anecdote of a smaller scale:
Earlier this week, my youngest son and I were sitting at the dinner table. I was doing my work (I was supposed to be doing research for a thing I was writing, but mostly I was just watching videos of funny road rage moments) and he was doing his work (he was supposed to be doing his homework, but mostly he was drawing things on Post-it notes). After a few minutes of silence, he walked over to me, handed me a Post-it, smiled, then leaned toward my ear and said, “This is for you. Don’t show Mama.” I said OK, and then looked at it. He had written the work “fuck” on it, except he’d spelled it “fuk.” This, to me, was funny, so I laughed and told him “thank you” and stuck it to my computer. He smirked and said, “You’re welcome, daddy,” and then went back to his seat.
Several minutes later, my wife came wandering through the area. When she did, he insta-panicked. He sat straight up in his chair and very quickly said, “Daddy, don’t show Mama,” and I think he meant for it to be a whisper, but it didn’t come out as a whisper. It came out at the same volume that Private Joker yelled at when Gunnery Sergeant Hartman told Joker to show him his war face in Full Metal Jacket.
She (of course) heard him, and so she (of course) asked what I wasn’t supposed to show her, and he (of course) has a terrible poker face, and so she (of course) knew that something was up. She walked closer to us, looked at him (he was entirely shook), looked at me (I, too, was shook, because even though I knew that I wasn’t the one who wrote the note, it would be impossible for me to successfully argue that I was not, by that point, a willing accomplice in the overarching essence of the note), then very firmly said, “Don’t. Show. Me. What?” He looked at me and I looked at him, and we both silently admitted defeat to each other. Then he reached over toward me, peeled the Post-it off my computer, then handed it to her. She read it, and then asked what it was for. He said, “I just wrote it for Daddy.” She asked why. He said, “I thought it was funny.” She looked at me. I said, “I mean, it’s kinda funny.” She explained to me that it was not funny, because he had also recently got in trouble for cussing at school (apparently, he shouted, “Goddammit,” when all the kids were told that recess was over, and I want you to try to imagine someone telling you that story and you not being able to laugh about it).
As a tiny punishment, he was sent to his room for a fair amount of time and told to clean it. He had to forfeit his Post-it notes and his markers and was not allowed to watch TV for the night. This, I thought, was a fair sentence. He did not agree. He reacted like he’d been told that he was going to have his arms and legs taken off. He did not, as it were, feel like he got his money’s worth.
Let’s move on to some NBA player fines.
The Infraction and the Fine: This is my favorite fine so far of the season, so it’s the one we’re going to start with. During the final seconds of an already-decided game between the Nuggets and the Celtics, Jamal Murray fired up a 3 at the buzzer. He shot it because he had 48 points and was trying to get over the 50-point mark. The shot missed, and Kyrie Irving, upset at what he’d just seen, took the ball and threw it into the stands. The NBA fined him $25,000 for doing so.
Did He Get His Money’s Worth?: There are seven things I’d like to point out here.
1. I am on the record as very pro–Kyrie Irving. He is so much fun to watch and interesting to think about. In almost all sports-related instances, I am going to side with him. This one is no different (at least, with regard to his decision to try to turn the ball into a NASA satellite). I don’t hate this reaction by Irving. In fact, I think it’s wonderful. I love that he saw Murray try to get 50, (correctly) assumed that Murray was going to want to keep the ball from his career night, and was like, “Oh? You want this? Cool, cool, cool. Go get it, then!” and fucking chucked it up into the stands. That’s very funny.
2. (Murray eventually did get the ball back, by the way.)
3. (One more thing about Murray: He 100 percent did the right thing by going for 50. How many times do you get that chance in your life? Go for it. Always go for it. I don’t care if a player has 212 points in a game and the team is up by 86. If you can get another shot off, then get another shot off. Always shoot. Always.)
4. There was a camera on Kyrie as he was getting ready to throw the ball, and the person working the camera made sure to zoom all the way in on the ball once it was thrown to show how far it was traveling. I respect that kind of dedication to the job. To whomever that cameraperson was, I would like to offer up my respect and gratitude.
5. Kyrie has a great arm. I expanded the shot of Kyrie throwing the ball and then circled where the ball was and where Kyrie was. He really got a hold of that thing. Look:
6. Per Boston’s CBS affiliate, Kyrie told reporters after the game, “The ball deserves to go in the crowd after a [expletive] move like that. So I threw it in the crowd.” I really enjoy how matter-of-fact this explanation is.
7. To the discussion of whether Kyrie’s fine was worth it: Last season he was fined $25,000 for responding to someone heckling him about LeBron by saying, “Suck my dick.” That’s the same price he got hit with this season for throwing the Murray ball into the stands. Last season the Celtics won their next 15 games in a row, so that one was definitely worth it. After this season’s incident, the Celtics won 10 of their next 16 games. I can’t confidently say that going 10-6 is worth $25,000, but as I mentioned in that first point, I am very pro-Kyrie, so I’m going to swing this in his favor ever so slightly. Yes, throwing the ball into the stands was juuuuuuuust barely worth the $25,000 fine that came with it.
The Infraction and the Fine: At the end of a November game between the Clippers and the Warriors, Draymond Green rebounded a missed shot. There were about six seconds left and the score was tied and Steve Kerr, rather than calling a timeout, wanted the team to press it (the Warriors had gone on an 11-0 run to tie things up, so it seemed like the universe was going to deliver a win for them). He waved them forward, so Kevin Durant, the best person on the planet when it comes to the singular act of putting a basketball through a hoop, called for the ball. Draymond ignored him, instead charting his own path for stardom. He dribbled up the court, had the ball poked away from him at the 3-point line, then fell down trying to get control of the ball as the buzzer sounded. Durant was visibly and loudly upset about it, and Draymond Green is Draymond Green, so we went from that moment into a couple of days of stories about how Draymond had called Kevin a “bitch” a bunch of times and also told him that the Warriors didn’t need him. The front office of the Warriors feels differently, so, as a punishment and also as a backdoor way to tell Kevin that he is obviously important and necessary, they suspended Draymond for one game without pay. It ended up costing him a little over $120,000.
Did He Get His Money’s Worth?: That depends on how this season turns out, really. Or, more specifically, it depends on how Kevin Durant’s free-agency situation plays out.
If he ends up staying with Golden State, then the answer will be clear: It was absolutely worth it. We’ll probably get a clip during their championship retrospective DVD where they talk about how everyone thought that that was going to be the moment that ended the Warriors, but that really it was the moment that brought them closer than ever. (They’re going to be entirely insufferable here, and almost certainly they will not be telling the truth, but that’s the kind of luxury afforded to champions.) Paying $120,000 to win a few more titles is a very good investment.
Whether or not the Warriors win the title this season, if Durant ends up leaving, then the answer will be a little hazier. There are just too many potential outcomes. It’s impossible to give a general answer. You have to pin down the specifics of each outcome. Four possibilities:
- Durant leaves, and the Warriors disintegrate without him. They lose in the playoffs early and convincingly. If this happens, then it was not worth it, because losing is (duh) worse than winning.
- Durant leaves, but the Warriors win another championship without him. If this happens, then it was worth it, because it further validates what Steph and Draymond and Klay have meant for each other and for basketball. Paying $120,000 for the release of the conditional asides of any titles the Warriors won with Durant seems like a fair price.
- Durant leaves, and the Warriors lose a hard-fought series while Durant shines in the playoffs on his new team but ultimately does not win a championship. If this happens, then it was worth it, because now we have the potential over the next couple of seasons to get a Durant-vs.-Warriors matchup in the playoffs and possibly even in the Finals, if he goes to the Knicks (!) or the Sixers (!!) or the Raptors (!!!!!!!!!!!!!).
- Durant leaves, and the Warriors lose a hard-fought series while Durant shines in the playoffs on his new team and ultimately does win a championship. If that happens, then it was worth it for basketball fans but not for Draymond (and especially not for Steph), because in addition to the potential for a Durant-vs.-Warriors matchup in the playoffs, it also opens up a ton of different ways to talk about how Durant and the members of this Warriors team have, for better or worse, shaped each other’s legacy (specifically for Steph, an all-time great player who people, for some reason, like to find ways to convince you that he is not an all-time great player).
And that’s just four of the possible outcomes. There are a bunch more.
(Very quickly before we move on: Kevin Durant picked up a nice $25,000 fine for walking over to a Dallas Mavericks fan behind the court and telling him to “Watch the fucking game and shut the fuck up.” This was worth it for Durant because it’s a funny thing for him to do, but also it wasn’t worth it for Durant because he should not have been fined any dollars at all because it should be completely legal and within the laws of the game for anyone at any point to cuss out a Dallas Mavericks fan.)
The Infraction and the Fine: During a Rockets-Lakers game in October, James Harden drew a foul on Brandon Ingram by crashing into him on his way to a potential layup. (This maybe sounds like a sly insult of sorts aimed at Harden, but it is not. Harden is a master at drawing contact in a way that somehow seems to damage the fouler more than the foulee. It’s part of what makes him such a devastating offensive force. You might not like it as a strategy, but you cannot deny its effectiveness.) Ingram, frustrated by the call and then frustrated that Harden was lobbying for an and-1 call, shoved Harden. He and Harden got into it a little before being separated. During the resulting ruckus, Chris Paul and Rajon Rondo, longtime foils, took the opportunity to get in each other’s faces. Rajon (either did or did not) spit on Paul on purpose, so Paul responded by (definitely) mushing his finger into Rondo’s face, and that’s all it took to start a fistfight between the two. Paul was suspended for two games ($491,781), Rondo was suspended for three games ($186,207), and Brandon Ingram, who came running over and joined in on the fight, was suspended for four games ($158,817).
Did He Get His Money’s Worth?: Since there were three people involved here, let’s go person by person by person and then finish with five quick asides.
- Brandon Ingram: No. This was not worth it for him. He got in only one punch, and it wasn’t even a shot that landed, and also it was a punch that he threw while running up on the actual fight, and also it was not a punch at James Harden, the person Ingram was mad at to start with. Considering all of those things, and considering that this was not a situation in which Ingram changed the way he’s viewed in the league (nobody saw this and was like, “Whoa, Brandon Ingram elevated himself into the Enforcer conversation”), and considering that he was aiming his punch at Chris Paul, a very good friend of his teammate LeBron James, it all comes up very much in the red in the “Did He Get His Money’s Worth?” ledger.
- Rajon Rondo: Given that, according to Brian Windhorst, Rajon Rondo has been mad at Chris Paul for over a decade now, since all the way back when Paul edged him out for a spot on the Olympic team, I have to assume that this was worth it for Rondo. I mean, if we take the money that he ended up losing ($186K) and spread it out over those 10 years, he was basically investing $18,600 a year for 10 years in the promise of finally being able to punch Chris Paul. Add in the part about getting to (allegedly) spit in his face, and that feels like a very solid return on investment.
- Chris Paul: Same as we did with Rondo, let’s take the amount of money that Paul lost ($492K) and divide it out by the amount of time that Paul and Rondo have disliked each other (10 years). That means Paul was investing $42,900 a year for 10 years in the promise of being able to finally punch Rajon Rondo. You can add in here that, from what I can tell, Paul was able to get two shots in (Rondo looked like he got in one decent shot, one grazed shot, and the spit), and so I think that gets you a little closer to a good ROI, but not quite all the way there. If he’d have landed three or more punches, or if he’d have been able to knock down Rondo once, or if he’d have not gotten spit on, then you could’ve maybe argued it the other way. But as it stands, no. I think you have to vote here that Paul did not get his money’s worth.
Five quick asides: (1) This happened during LeBron’s first home game as Laker. I don’t believe in signs or anything like that, but if I did I would try to talk myself into believing that this was one. (2) We’re only in December of this season, and yet when I was watching the clip of the fight I was like, “Wait. Carmelo played for the Rockets?” I’d almost forgotten about that. (3) There’s nobody I want calling a game when a fight breaks out more than Mike Breen. He’s great with the commentary here; he just absolutely nails everything. He’s the right amount of energized, the right amount of loud, the right amount of alarmed. He’s exactly perfect in the moment. That said, a part of me couldn’t help but daydream about him shouting his “Bang!” catchphrase that he does after big shots, except he was doing it here each time Paul or Rondo or Ingram landed a punch. (4) Less than a month earlier, J.R. Smith and Marcus Smart got into an altercation during a preseason game. (Smith was fined $15,000, and Smart was fined $25,000). I figured we’d get at least until December before we had another flare-up like this. I want to be real careful here the way that I say this because I don’t want to sound callous or insensitive, but: I was excited when the Rondo-Paul fight happened. I like things like that happening on my television during games. Violence is clearly bad, but basketball violence is … less … bad? I don’t know. (5) I love the NBA so much.