Sports Law Blog
All things legal relating
to the sports world...
Wednesday, May 16, 2007
NBA Rules and Legal Formalism

A couple of interesting posts and comments from Michael Dorf at DorfOnLaw about the suspensions of the Spurs' Robert Horry and the Suns' Amare Stoudemire and Boris Diaw over the "altercation" in Game 4 of the Phoenix-San Antonio series.

The issue is how the NBA's rules against leaving the bench, and Stu Jackson's decision to suspend Stoudemire and Diaw for doing so (or almost doing so, since neither actually made it to the fray but quickly jumped back off the court), reflects ancient debates about legal formalism; the advantages and disadvantages of relying on hard legal rules as opposed to more flexible legal standards; and the idea of law v. morality (or justness, if you will). There also is some interesting lawyering going on among Suns backers: The argument has been made that the rule against leaving the bench to join an altercation was not triggered in this situation, because what happened on the court (Horry's hip-check of Nash) was not an altercation. It did not carry the day, obviously, but a cute argument.

Worth a read.


Awful decision by Stern. He's the final arbiter so he's got wide discretion in this. He could have said there was no "altercation." He could have said there does not need to be a strict interpretation, especially in light of the totality of the circumstances. Instead, he just goes with the bright line rule, fairness be damned. That's just wrong. As the Artest matter showed, Stern has the unfettered discretion to interpret the rules and he should have used that discretion to not have minor transgressions determine the outcome of the series.

Blogger qtlaw24 -- 5/16/2007 2:30 PM  

I agree with qtlaw in the sense that the league blew these suspensions. I understand the rule is clear in that if a player leaves the bench he is automatically suspended. My issue is a couple of things. First, how is two Suns going to get suspended for leaving the bench, which was simply a reaction to Horry's hip check. Is this the old rule of the second person always gets into trouble? The Spurs essentially sent a goon out for Steve Nash and got the reaction they wanted (players leaving the bench) which caused the automatic suspension. The second issue I have is the league reading intent into the rule? If the rule is hard and fast then a player should get suspended for leaving the bench to check on a teammate who was hit hard and might be injured, but this probably would not happen because his intent was to aid and not cause an altercation. Maybe Stoudamire was making certain Nash was not injured at an extremely fast pace. Bottom line, the league needs to determine if they are going to read intent into the rule then it needs to state, "If a player leaves the bench with the intent to cause or escalate an altercation, automatic one game suspension. Otherwise they need to quit claiming that the rule is black and white when in reality it is up to the league officials to determine the interpretation.

Anonymous Ballin -- 5/16/2007 7:04 PM  

If the league wants enforce it rules fairly, in this case in particular, they should have also suspended Duncan and Bowen. In an earlier altercation in the game, these two Spurs left the bench and walked onto the court. These suspensions are not an example of blanket enforcement. I am sure that if the league wanted to set a precedent, and Duncan and Bowen were also suspended, then most would think that the rules are fair with uniform enforcement.

Anonymous Anonymous -- 5/16/2007 7:44 PM  

Post a Comment