A Serbian scuffle and the changing nature of NBA fisticuffs

Just when we thought we were about to witness an old-school NBA scuffle, the internet stepped in to remind us we’re in 2021 and not 1981.

In Tuesday night’s game between the Nuggets and the Heat, reigning MVP Nikola Jokic was ejected for bum-rushing an opponent.  With only two minutes left in a blowout, which is usually when tempers like this flare, Miami forward Markieff Morris undercut Jokic as he was bringing up the ball.  That was a bad idea.

The young Serb, not one to back down from a tussle, immediately went after Morris, who’s not exactly known for his saintly behavior.  Morris, who had his back turned after committing the foul, was blindsided by the seven-foot Serb.  No punches were thrown as the two men were far enough away from one another, especially after Morris went flying to the floor.

As is always the case with these kinds of altercations, which are kept to a minimum thanks to the NBA cracking down on such behavior, both men were ejected but not before benches rose and Heat superstar Jimmy Butler was caught mouthing threats at Jokic to catch him outside.  It’s nice to see Pat Riley’s influence still alive and well in Miami.

All was well and good, until after the game when the fight spilled onto the internet, with social media once again acting as the cyber-spatial octagon, reminding us all we’re living in an era where keyboard strokes count as modern haymakers.

Markieff Morris has a twin brother who also plays in the NBA.  After watching the hit, brother Marcus Tweeted that it was classless of Jokic to not wait until Morris turned around.  In Jokic’s defense, he didn’t wait at all.  The retaliation was immediate; Morris just happened to be looking the other way.  In all fairness, he had to know what was coming.  No Eastern European basketballer has ever been considered soft on crime, particularly not Jokic.

Since a Morris brother was once again first to act, Jokic’s two brothers responded in kind.  They replied “You should leave this the way it is instead of publicly threatening our brother! Your brother made a dirty play first. If you want to make a step further be sure we will be waiting for you!! Jokic Brothers.” 

And so, it continued.

In his post-game press conference, Jokic acknowledged guilt, admitting he got caught up in the emotion of the play.  Jokic has been suspended one game, both Morris and Butler were fined.  But that didn’t stop this from becoming the Wild Wild West on the World Wide Web.

No word as to whether the brothers’ folly will end up becoming more of a family affair than it already has but the next Miami-Denver game should be worth watching.  The foul and ensuing shove we saw in Jokic-Morris I were throwbacks to a fonder time when teams down by twenty would try to start some shit with the hopes of finishing it. 

Like the other professional sports leagues that don’t have the word “Hockey” in the title, the NBA has done it’s best to avoid these sorts of altercations.  If you want further proof of sports leagues attempting to clean up their image, on the very same night in Pittsburgh, NFL referees levied a taunting penalty against the Chicago Bears that may have determined the outcome of the game.  Not a single punch was thrown.  Just an ill-advised glare in the wrong direction.

In the 1980s and spilling into the 90s, altercations like this in the NBA were commonplace.  After the Malice in the Palace, where players actually got physical with fans, the late David Stern realized the image he tried so hard to create had backpedaled violently.  We have yet to see anything even remotely resembling that in the Association since the league put its foot down. Even leaving the bench in support of a teammate is verboten.  Phoenix fans remember that fateful night in 2007 that cost them a shot at a championship, when Amare Stoudemire left the bench to defend his MVP Steve Nash and was summarily suspended even though he had no part in the actual altercation.

The NBA wants a clean-cut image, especially from its MVPs.  Jokic was wise to publicly state he was wrong for retaliating, which is why his suspension was for only one game.  But the online follow-up reminds us that the only place for jawing is on the internet, the brothers’ Twitter battle a weak, unnecessary period at the end of a perfectly good, exclamation point.

I suppose we’re in a different time, that we’ve evolved, depending on your definition of the word. And I suppose it’s still human nature to stick your chest out when your family is threatened, even if that gesture involves a keyboard.

I guess this 80s kid shouldn’t complain about Twitter battles.  There’s less blood to clean up and fewer hospital bills to pay.  And if I want real fisticuffs, I’ll go back to watching hockey.

2 thoughts on “A Serbian scuffle and the changing nature of NBA fisticuffs

  1. Definitely a different time. I used to love watching the Bad Boys throwing elbows in the paint, and Lambeer doing his patented “Who, Me?” shrug when someone caught said elbows in their face. My favorite memories are Phil Jackson crying like a baby every time da Bulls got their asses whipped because they couldn’t match up below the basket…

    Good times, good times…..

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