By Brandon Niles EBS Sports Columnist
I really wanted to root for the Golden State Warriors in the NBA Finals this year. I like to see smaller market teams do well, and the dynamic backcourt duo of MVP Steph Curry and Klay Thompson make the Warriors an awfully fun team to watch.
In a league where teams from Boston, Los Angeles and Miami have been dominant over the past few decades, to see a team like Golden State win the title is encouraging for fans in other small markets.
Then Draymond Green happened.
The Warriors’ Draymond Green, the fiery all-purpose forward who has been under fire throughout the playoffs, was assessed a flagrant foul after Game 4 of the Finals due to what the league called a “retaliatory swipe of his hand to the groin” of Cavaliers star forward Lebron James. The two had a heated exchange following the play, with James being issued a technical foul during the game.
Green was suspended for Game 5 as a result. Golden State fans were outraged, members of the media, including announcer Jeff Van Gundy, expressed disagreement with the suspension, and I officially became a temporary Cleveland Cavaliers fan as a result.
First, let’s get this straight. Draymond Green was suspended because this was his fourth flagrant foul of the postseason. The NBA has an established cumulative foul system that triggers an automatic one game suspension after four infractions.
This wasn’t a rule recently set up to doom the Warriors or hurt Draymond Green. Also, Lebron James had nothing to do with this established rule, despite being on the receiving end of Green’s third groin attack in the past month.
Nevertheless, Golden State fans arrived at Oracle Arena for Game 5 toting signs of disparaging remarks. #FreeDraymond was a prominent sign, as were various remarks relating to Lebron James’ masculinity and propensity to complain. Fans at Oracle Arena booed James nearly every time he touched the ball. Keep it classy, Oakland.
The reaction from fans and media alike was baffling. It’s true that Green, arguably the third best player on the Warriors, is an invaluable member of the team and that his absence affected Game 5. However, to let the importance of the game gloss over the fact that Green has been pushing the limits throughout the playoffs— and season for that matter—is ridiculous.
During the Western Conference Finals against the Oklahoma City Thunder, Green hit opposing center Steven Adams in the groin on two separate occasions. While one could argue that these groin shots have all been unintentional, most observers would agree that each seemed egregious.
At the very least he has demonstrated a pattern of behavior, with three groin shots in the span of two playoffs series, and should be encouraged through disciplinary action to adjust his game accordingly.
The way the fans reacted made me hope their team would lose—and they did, in seven games. I still like Curry and Thompson. I still think they’re an awful lot of fun to watch.
But there seems to be a lack of understanding in sports fandom that duality is OK. It’s OK to acknowledge the negative aspects of your favorite player, while also rooting for them. It’s OK to think that Draymond Green did something wrong by targeting opposing players in the groin, while also liking what he brings to your favorite team.
To make excuses for this type of behavior is bad for the game of basketball and bad for sports in general. There’s a reason the NBA has a cumulative foul system, and that is to deter players from this type of behavior.
To complain about the treatment of Draymond Green, criticize Lebron James for being hit in the groin, or act indignant about the suspension is dishonest. The NBA showed that no one is above the rules, and I applaud them for it.
Brandon Niles is a longtime fan of football and scotch, and has been writing about sports for the past decade. He is a fantasy football scout for 4for4 Fantasy Football and is co-host of the 2 Guys Podcast.