Professionalism/Ball Don't Lie: The Moral Code of the NBA
Although most associate professionalism with job responsibilities in office settings, professionalism also applies to athletes — a reality that is rarely discussed in much depth. In the sport of basketball, different ethics perspectives can cause visible conflicts, but they can also bring people to better understand one another. This page discusses professionalism on the basketball court at the highest levels of competition: the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) and the National Basketball Association (NBA).
Gamesmanship vs. SportsmanshipEdit
Gamesmanship and sportsmanship are two ethical perspectives in sports that can be in direct conflict. Gamesmanship describes an "us versus them" mentality that values winning above all else. From this perspective, there is no inherent responsibility to treat opponents respectfully or follow rules, which can mean disregarding standard codes of fair play. Some athletes believe that referees have the responsibility to catch wrongdoings and that think they are only cheating if they get caught. Examples of gamesmanship include faking a foul or injury, tampering with equipment, and using performance enhancing drugs. Conversely, sportsmanship places more value on fairness, integrity, responsibility, and respect. Sportsmanship is built upon the belief that sport should nurture and develop one's character, which can mean subordinating the goal of winning to the goal of playing hard and accepting the outcome. Examples of sportsmanship include helping opposing players up, shaking hands with opponents after games, and accepting calls made against oneself and one's team without complaint. A better understanding of these concepts could help explain athlete's motivations and extrapolate to other cases of professional ethics.
NBA Sportsmanship AwardEdit
The NBA Sportsmanship Award is an annual NBA award given to a player who most "exemplifies the ideals of sportsmanship on the court with ethical behavior, fair play, and integrity." The trophy is named after former Detroit Pistons player and Hall of Famer Joe Dumars, the award's first recipient.  Every NBA team nominates one of its players to compete for the award and one player from each division is chosen from that list by a panel as the divisional Sportsmanship Award winners. At the end of the regular season, players in the league cast votes for the award and the player with the highest point total receives the Joe Dumars Trophy.
Enforcement of Sportsmanship in NBA GamesEdit
The NBA has official rules specifically designed to penalize unfair, harmful, or unsportsmanlike play during games. Players, coaches, and teammates on the bench are all held responsible for their actions during the course of a game, and unsportsmanlike conduct can result in being charged with a technical foul. Deliberately acting dangerously during play may result in a more serious flagrant foul. Technical and flagrant fouls carry monetary and in-game penalties meant to enforce safe and sportsmanlike play in the NBA.
Technical fouls are assessed for rule violations that do not involve player contact during the course of play (which are typically personal fouls). According to the NBA rulebook, technical fouls may be charged against players, coaches, an entire team, or spectators "for conduct which, in the opinion of an official, is detrimental to the game." While this gives a very broad definition of what constitutes a technical foul, the NBA rulebook also gives some common rule infractions that are deserving of a technical foul. Violations may include:
- Calling an excessive number of timeouts
- Delaying the commencing of play at any time
- A team having any numbers of players other than five on the court during play
- A player deliberately hanging from the rim or backboard
In addition, the NBA differentiates between unsportsmanlike and non-unsportsmanlike technical fouls. Unsportsmanlike technical fouls are more serious than non-unsportsmanlike technical fouls, as receiving one carries the possibility of ejection from the game at the discretion of the official who assigned the foul. Any individual receiving two unsportsmanlike technical fouls is automatically ejected from the game. Acts which may be assessed an unsportsmanlike technical foul include but are not limited to:
- Behaving disrespectfully towards or physically contacting an official
- Use of profanity
- A coach entering the court without an official's permission
- A display of physical aggression towards an opponent without physical contact
A special form of technical foul is assessed for players engaging in fighting. Players charged with fighting fouls are immediately ejected from the game, and risk a fine of up to $50,000 and possible suspension. All technical fouls except for fighting carry a penalty of one free-throw attempt for the opposing team. Additionally, individuals who are assessed an unsportsmanlike technical foul incur a fine of up to $5,000.
Flagrant fouls are personal fouls which involve unnecessary and potentially dangerous contact. They are the most serious type of foul assessed in the NBA and carry the most severe penalty. The NBA rulebook defines two levels of flagrant fouls:
- Flagrant Foul 1 (FF1): Unnecessary contact committed by a player against an opponent
- Flagrant Foul 2 (FF2): Unnecessary and excessive contact committed by a player against an opponent
Both levels of flagrant fouls result in two free-throw attempts and the opposing team retaining possession of the ball. Furthermore, players committing either one FF2 or two FF1's are automatically ejected from the game. This makes the flagrant foul level-system akin to the yellow-card/red-card system of soccer and other sports.
The act of "playing dirty" means to use unethical, illegal, or injurious means.  Like in any sport, basketball players sometimes make "dirty plays" in order to give their team a better chance to win. Most of these players fall in the category of placing importance of gamesmanship over sportsmanship as they don't care how they win as long as they do. Examples of dirty plays can range anywhere from as violent as striking an opponent to pulling an opponent's jersey hoping the referee won't see. There are many players who are notorious for their unethical antics in the NBA who are disliked by many fans.
Christian Laettner is one of the most controversial players in college basketball history. Christian Laettner played for Duke University, and led that program to back-to-back national titles in 1991 and 1992. Laettner is widely regarded as one of the best college basketball players of all time, but was also voted the most hated college basketball player of all time. Christian Laettner is most famous for hitting a shot to beat Kentucky in the 1992 regional final on a Hail Mary play. Christian Laettner relives "The Shot"
Earlier in that game, he intentionally stomped on a fallen Kentucky player, a play that earned him a technical foul, but many think he should’ve been ejected. His on-the-court greatness, coupled with this dirty play are huge contributing factors that cause fans to despise him, particularly because many think he should not have still been playing in that game. Christian Laettner
The argument for Laettner committing a dirty play in this particular instance is fairly obvious. However, some would argue he was doing what he had to do. Laettner said in the moment that Timberlake had pushed him earlier in the game, and Laettner made a mental note to get him back. If a player feels like he’s being pushed around, doesn’t he need to assert himself and establish that he’s going to fight back? Did he need to establish his dominance with that stomp or should he have let his game speak for itself?
Bruce Bowen was considered a great lock-down defender during his time in the NBA. During his time with the Spurs, he won three championships, and was a crucial part of those championships, usually guarding the other team’s best offensive player. However, he also developed a reputation around the NBA for being a dirty player. In one play, Bowen flew in to contest a shot and ended up kicking Wally Szczerbiak in the face. He also kneed Steve Nash in the groin, committing an offensive foul and ruffling a few feathers from Phoenix Suns players in the process. While these two incidents were considered dirty plays, and many viewed them as intentional, Bowen is accused and known for the particular tactic of sticking a foot underneath a jump shooter so that the shooter lands on his foot, spraining his ankle in the process.  Bruce Bowen Bruce Bowen "dirty plays"
Zaza Pachulia gained notoriety as one of the NBA's dirtiest players during his career. Pachulia had been the aggressor in multiple incidents throughout the league. A video of past transgressions can be viewed here. Of these incidents, perhaps the most notable is his close out against Kawhi Leonard during the western conference finals in 2017. Zaza performed an illegal closeout on the San Antonio Spurs best player, Kawhi Leonard, in the third quarter of game 1. This closeout caused Kawhi to leave the game and miss the remainder of the series. The Warriors, Pachulia’s team at the time, were losing by a large margin at the time but came back to defeat the spurs in this game. Outraged, the spurs coach Gregg Popovich had an interview after the game in which he questioned Zaza for being a dirty player, stating “this individual has a history with this kind of action.” That interview can be viewed here. This play, and numerous others earned Zaza a place among Complex’s top 9 dirtiest players in the NBA .
In each of these cases, the players are known for dirty plays just as much as they are known for their on the court prowess and accomplishments. Despite the fact that Laettner stepped on a player’s chest for one play, most fans remember that one play and characterize Laettner as a player and as a person by that one play. Ray Allen, Steve Francis, Vince Carter, and Rip Hamilton all see Bowen as a particularly dirty player, all of them suffering from ankle injuries due to landing on Bowen’s foot after shooting a jumpshot. Bowen denies purposefully hurting players, but many around the league are still convinced that he purposefully attempted to injure opposing players. If Bowen’s actions were intentional, did he cross a line or are “dirty” tactics like that a part of trying to win? Gregg Popovich sees Zaza as a ldirty player, and refused to hide his feelings in interviews. Zaza refutes statements that his actions were intentional, but if they were they may have helped his team win the conference and the 2017 NBA finals. These actions may be viewed as concrete examples of gamesmanship, or accidental incidents that the players regret.
Ron Artest (a.k.a. "Metta World Peace") played in the NBA from 1999 to 2017. He was known for his dedication on the defense end of the court, as well as his tendency to make aggressive outbursts. He has been associated with two of the most notorious acts of "playing dirty" in recent NBA history: the "Malice at the Palace" incident in 2004 as a member of the Indiana Pacers and his elbowing of James Harden in 2012 as a member of the Los Angeles Lakers. In the former incident, Artest ran into the stands after a fan threw a drink on him, which helped ignite a brawl among numerous players and fans. The details of the brawl and its beginnings are described in the "Fan Etiquette" section. In the latter incident, Artest (who had by then changed his name to "Metta World Peace") flailed his elbow out in disgust after being nudged by James Harden. Unfortunately, his elbow connected squarely with the side of Harden's head, leaving the Oklahoma City guard on the floor before leaving with a concussion. World Peace was subsequently ejected from the game and suspended for seven games leading into the 2012 play-offs. He expressed regret for the damage caused to Harden, saying "it was bad timing for me and then, physically, it was bad timing for Mr. Harden" . World Peace's actions, despite not being intended to harm another player, demonstrate a disregard of sportsmanship that could be viewed as a violent act of gamesmanship.
***Trash talking definition********
Trash talking is generally viewed negatively in the game of basketball. Players use it to gain a mental edge on their opponents, but it usually involves foul language and bully-like behavior. Still, it can sometimes be viewed as a sign of mutual respect. Most players agree trash talking is acceptable as long as it is a two-way street. If you can take it, then you can dish it.
The story of Dominique Wilkin's first encounter with Larry Bird offers an illuminating perspective on the merits of trash talking. At the start of the game, Wilkins tried to shake Bird's hand, but Bird refused and said: "You don't belong in this league, Homes." Bird started the game by scoring a few three pointers on Wilkins, and he continued to talk trash. Wilkins was furious, and Bird's trash talking fueled his motivation as he took a drive to the basket and dunked over Bird. As Bird got up from the floor, he said: "I like you, rookie. You've got guts. But I'm still going for 40 on you tonight."  There is no doubt Bird respected Wilkins, but in his eyes, trash talking is a professional tactic that he uses to gain a mental edge on his opponents.
Reggie Miller loved to use trash talk to get in his opponent's head and distract them from the game. Miller's been known to make a "choke" sign around his next when the other team is under-performing, regularly making the sports highlights for this antic.  In the 1994 Eastern Conference Finals, the Pacers vs Knicks series was tied at 2-2 when the Pacers were heading to Madison Square Garden for Game 5. Miller went on to destroy the Knicks, scoring 39 points shooting 14-of-26 from the field and had 6 assists as well.  However, this wasn't the most memorable part of his performance. Late in the game, Miller hit a shot from the corner and turned toward and jabbered towards Spike Lee, famous director/actor and Knicks fan, who was sitting in the floor seats. A few moments later while the Pacers were at the free throw line, Miller directed a choke sign to Spike Lee and grabs his "shorts". Despite Miller's antics on the court, he was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2012.  By inducting him into the Hall of Fame, is the NBA saying that trash talk towards opponents is acceptable and Miller shouldn't be looked down upon for that aspect of his play?
Michael Jordan is arguably the greatest basketball player of all time. During his 15 season career in the NBA, he was an NBA All-Star 14 times and an NBA Champion 6 times, so it is easy to see that he was phenomenal player during his time. However, he was one of the biggest proponents of trash talking, using it frequently to rattle his opponents and get in their heads. During his 1996 season, Jordan scored a season-high 48 points on the Philadelphia 76ers, this game is important because Jordan was being guarded by Jerry Stackhouse, a rookie and former UNC Tar Heel like Jordan, Stackhouse said in an interview, "I can beat Michael Jordan one-on-one".  So Michael Jordan proceeded to score the most points he'd scored all season as well as winking at the 76ers bench every time he scored. During the 1991 season, the Bulls were on the road taking on Dikembe Mutombo and the Denver Nuggets. With the game well in hand, Jordan was doing what he does best: running his mouth. As the clock was winding down, Jordan was fouled and sent to the line with 5 seconds left. Mutombo proceeded to trash talk at him a bit after he made his first free throw, then Jordan did the same. Before his second shot, Jordan mouthed to Dikembe, “This one’s for you,” closed his eyes and drained the second shot in his face.  It was widely known that Mutombo was a poor free throw shooter and so Jordan, by shooting with his eyes closed, was essentially saying, "I am so much better than you that I can make this with my eyes closed". In a 1987 preseason game against the Indiana Pacers, Reggie Miller, a rookie for the Pacers and a prolific trash talker in his own right, was running his mouth to Jordan after outscoring him 10 points to 4 points in the first half, Jordan then turned the tables on him. Jordan finished the game with 44 points to Miller’s 10, and then reminded Reggie to, “You sure, be careful, you never talk to Black Jesus like that.”  Jordan used the trash talk he was receiving to fuel him and outperform Miller. One of the most ruthless examples of Michael Jordan's trash talking was during a 1995 playoff game against the Charlotte Hornets. Mugsy Bogues was a player for the Hornets as well as the shortest player to every play in the NBA, standing at 5'3". Jordan's Bulls were winning by one point and Bogues had the ball with time running out and the greatest player defending him; Jordan then began taunting Bogues saying, "shoot it you...midget", Bogues did just that but missed and the Bulls won.  Bogues claims that moment ruined his career as he was never the same after that. Trash talking is big part of competition and if done mutually and correctly can provoke rivalries that heighten fan experience and bring about some of the most spectacular moments in sports; however, in some cases in can be detrimental to players. Some may say that trash talking is reserved for cheap players who have no respect for the game, but even Michael Jordan used to trash talk and he is regarded as the best to ever play the game.
End of GameEdit
Coaches and players often face difficult decisions relating to sportsmanship at the end of the game. For example, it is generally unacceptable to play starters when a team is winning by a significant margin, just as it is considered bad sportsmanship to run up the score in the final minutes or shoot the last shot as the winning team. Still, the professionalism of many such actions and decisions are up for debate.
One of the most notorious examples of end of game unsportsmanlike conduct occurred on May 27, 1991. The Detroit pistons earned a reputation of rule bending and being and having a roster full of dirty players. As a tough, win at all costs team the pistons earned themselves the name “bad boys” in the 1987-88 season. The name “bad boys” was a title the pistons wore gladly through three finals runs and back to back championships in the 1989-90 seasons. In 1991, the Chicago Bulls and the Detroit pistons faced each other in the eastern conference finals. As a team incredibly full of pride, the pistons were not ready to relinquish their crown as top of the NBA. Nevertheless, the pistons found themselves down 3-0 in a best of seven series on and on May 27, 1991 game four was played. The Chicago bulls played well from the beginning and managed to gain a 115-94 lead with 7.9 seconds remaining in the game. At this time, the Detroit Pistons decided to walk off the court without congratulating the victor of the game . In basketball it is customary and a practice of good sportsmanship to shake hands and congratulate the winning team. Because of this, the moment the Pistons walked off the court with time remaining will forever remain in basketball infamy. A video of this event with commentary from the players and personnel involved can be seen here .
Brannen Greene and KansasEdit
On February 3, 2016, Kansas small-forward Brannen Greene made a play at the end of the game that infuriated his coach. Kansas was winning by 16 points, and the clock was approaching zero. Instead of holding the ball and letting the game clock run out, Greene decided to drive to the basket and dunk the ball as time expired. The entire Kansas State team was already walking to the bench, so Greene's move was a major salt to their wound. Bill Self, the head coach of Kansas, describes the play: "To dunk the ball like that when the other team—even their players are going, ‘How disrespectful to the game.’ It certainly showed unbelievably poor sportsmanship.”  This is a clear example of bad sportsmanship.
Dillon Brooks and OregonEdit
The case of Dillon Brooks falls more in the grey area of ethical decision-making on the basketball court. On March 24, 2016, Oregon played Duke in a sweet sixteen matchup. Oregon was up by 9 points with about 10 seconds to go. Dillon Brooks, Oregon's star player, shot the basketball from deep three-pointer range, and he made the shot. At the end of the game, Duke's coach Mike Krzyzewski admonished Brooks and believed he unnecessarily rubbed in the victory. However, this play is less cut and dry. Unlike the case of Brannen Greene, Brooks had to deal with the shot clock, as it would have expired had he not taken the shot. In addition, Oregon's coach Dana Altman told the media that he instructed Brooks to take the shot. This brings up an interesting point: are players obligated to obey their coaches, even if it breaches ethical boundaries? Brooks obeyed his coach even though it may not have been the sportsmanlike play.
Shaun Livingston and the Golden State WarriorsEdit
With about 20 seconds left in Game 1 of the 2018 NBA finals, Shaun Livingston pulled up for a mid-range jumper with his team up 10. Tristan Thompson of the Cleveland Cavaliers contested the shot and reacted in frustration. “I contested a shot that shouldn’t have been taken. It’s like the unspoken rule in the NBA: ‘If you’re up by 10 or 11 with about 20 seconds left, you don’t take that shot,'” Thompson said. Livingston and fellow Warriors players did not see the situation the same way. “If there’s time on the clock and the shot clock differential, whatever, just play it to the end. I don’t think we would get on our feelings if somebody came down and finished out a possession and got a shot up,” Warriors guard Stephen Curry said . Livingston's action and Thompson's reaction led to a scuffle between Thompson and Warriors forward Draymond Green that got both teams involved at-large. This case illustrates how what one player views as unsportsmanlike conduct can be perceived as acceptable play by others. The NBA certainly has "unwritten rules", but how players view them and the degree to which players abide by them differs.
The NBA defines flopping as "any physical act that appears to have been intended to cause the referees to call a foul on another player" where the physical reaction is "inconsistent with what would reasonably be expected given the force or direction of the contact." Flopping has existed every since referees became a part of the game, but on October 3, 2012, the NBA deemed the unsportsmanlike act had reached an unacceptable rate of occurrence. Stu Jackson, Executive VP of the NBA, stated that "flops have no place in our game – they either fool referees into calling undeserved fouls or fool fans into thinking the referees missed a foul call" and instituted a new monetary fining system to discourage flopping. The rule was effective, as the NBA issued seven violations in the first month after starting the fines, and since then, the monthly number of fines has steadily decreased towards zero. According to Stu Jackson, the rule worked because it created a "scarlet letter syndrome" in which players did not want to garner the reputation as a flopper.
Manu Ginobili is a 4 time NBA Champion and has been playing with the San Antonio Spurs since 2002. Although he entered the NBA at the late age of 25 he has become one of the Spurs star players as well as the NBA's worst flopper. Possibly due to the fact of his star status, other player can get away with flopping unnoticed but Ginobili cannot. While most players have noticed his flopping and criticized him for it, they still regard him as a terrific player; former player Marcus Camby said, "I wish he was on our team. He’s a terrific player. I can’t take anything away from him".  Although he has been widely criticized for flopping, he is still considered a terrific player; it could be speculated that if he was not associated with the stigma of flopping if he could be one of the greatest players in the NBA.
However, some players in the NBA view flopping differently. Chris Singleton admits that players have stopped flopping due to the monetary repercussions and not for the higher standard of being viewed as a flopper. In fact, Lebron James publicly supported flopping, saying that “some guys have been doing it for years, just trying to get an advantage. Any way you can get an advantage over the opponent to help your team win, so be it.” For him, flopping is not a dirty play but rather a tool of the trade to help his team win.
The sole responsibility of referees is to regulate the game and ensure that players abide by the rules. Referees are highly trained individuals who normally make the correct calls. NBA Commissioner Stern said NBA referees "are the most ranked, rated, reviewed, statistically analyzed and mentored group of employees of any company in any place in the world." However, the ethics of basketball become fuzzy when even the referees cannot be trusted. The following cases will show that referees are not perfect, and players have the opportunity to exploit these fallible whistle-blowers. The question presents itself: are players responsible for not taking advantage of the referees' imperfection?
Because NBA referees are required to make split-second decisions, they are susceptible to internal biases. The biases play out in several significant ways. A 2014 study found that the calls made by referees varied across the league based on the height of the officiating crew. Referred to as a form of the Napoleon Complex, shorter referees tend to call more fouls than their taller peers, regardless of the players' height. Another study found that "more personal fouls are called against players when they are officiated by an opposite-race refereeing crew than when officiated by an own-race crew." This bias "sufficiently" affects the outcome of games. A study on college basketball found that the pattern of foul calls can be swayed by how many fouls have already been called in the game. Officials can be more prone to call fouls on the team with the fewest fouls, the visiting team, or the team that is leading. Tim Donaghy, a former NBA referee charged with leaking information to a professional gambler, admitted that star players receive "special treatment" and "get the benefit of calls that other players aren't." Because fans pay to watch the best players, referees are directed by NBA executives to "protect the star players and make them look as good as you can make them look" even if it places "one team at an advantage." By analyzing the tendencies of individual referees, NBA teams can gain a competitive advantage by increasing offensive efficiency, producing more free throw opportunities, and reducing defensive violations.
Make Up CallsEdit
A make-up call occurs when a referee who has made a controversial call against one team attempts to pacify the opposing team with another controversial call in their favor. Although some view make-up calls as a myth, a 2015 study  found that make-up calls do exist. The paper states that “when an offensive foul occurs in one possession, then offensive fouls, traveling and three-second violations… become anywhere from 16 to 66 percent more likely on the other team.” Kerry Fraser, a referee in the NHL, admits that he uses make-up calls to make the game fair. After being "fooled on a play or calling a marginal infraction," he would not invent penalties to right his wrong but would take advantage of normally negligible "gift-horse" infractions. Although referees are charged with holding a consistent standard, he admits he "alters that standard...with an eye toward fairness." For Kerry Fraser, he is willing to compromise his professional standards to maintain his sense of justice defined by "human nature."
Malice at the PaliceEdit
In a game between the Indiana Pacers and Detroit Pistons in Detroit, the 4th quarter was practically over, and the Pacers were essentially guaranteed a victory. Ron Artest of the Pacers fouled Ben Wallace hard from behind, and Wallace shoved Artest as a result. Artest was known for being volatile, and following advice he’d received for how to calm down in situations like this, was lying down on the scorer’s table. Wallace was being restrained. Wallace threw a towel while Artest was lying down. Artest got up briefly but returned his former position. A fan then threw a drink and cup on Artest and that set Artest off. Artest ran into the stands, punched several fans, Stephen Jackson followed Artest into the stands and punched several fans as well. Other members of the Pacers went into the stands to retrieve the players. During this process, many fans swarmed the players in the stands, and threw punches. The players eventually returned to the court, but by this point, fans were pursuing players onto the court, and fighting continued on the court. Pacers assistant coach Chuck Person compared the situation to being “trapped in a gladiator-type scene where the fans were the lions and we were just trying to escape with our lives.” Pacers-Pistons brawl 
There was a lack of professionalism on display from many people involved in this incident. First, Artest running into the stands, other players following him into the stands to fight with fans, and fighting with fans on the court all display a lack of professionalism. More importantly, the fans in the Detroit arena displayed no professionalism of any sort. Throughout the game, fans behind the bench were screaming obscenities at the Pacers’ players. Moving forward to the actual incident, one fan started the riot by throwing a beverage on Ron Artest. From there, once players were in the stands numerous fans attacked players, some even running on the court to attack players. Even as the Pacers’ players were leaving the court for the locker room, numerous fans were throwing food and drinks on the players, one fan even throwing a chair. The Detroit fans seriously breached fan etiquette during this incident, and displayed a serious lack of professionalism.
Fan Code of ConductEdit
The NBA has established a set of rules that fans must adhere to while attending any NBA event. They are committed to creating a safe, comfortable, and enjoyable sports and entertainment experience.  NBA fans can expect an environment where:
- Players will respect and appreciate each and every fan.
- Guests will be treated in a consistent, professional and courteous manner by all arena and team personnel.
- Guests will enjoy the basketball experience free from disruptive behavior, including foul or abusive language or obscene gestures.
- Guests will not engage in fighting, throwing objects or attempting to enter the court, and those who engage in any of these actions will immediately be ejected from the game.
Arena staff are trained to intervene when necessary to ensure all of these rules are met. Guests are at risk of being ejected without refund for for violating any of these expectations as well.
Off the Court ProfessionalismEdit
Off the court, NBA players must still hold a high professional standard. With the public eye on them, it is difficult for them to lower their standards. Making a simple mistake can lead to ridicules by the public, their team and the league itself. This becomes a grey area for many viewers as some might ridicule them for pushing an objective while others deem that this is the player's personal life and should be left as such. Many times players are expected to be held to a higher standard to maintain the image of the NBA.
Player and Organization RelationshipEdit
The relationship between players and organizations have many conflicting views in the public eye. Similar to many other employees at their company, NBA players are focused on making the right decisions to have the best future possible. This could include leaving their team for another to obtain more success and growth, negotiating a contract to get the best financial compensation possible and even showing disinterest in their team. Many players will request a trade from their team or leave them if they feel like they are not being treated fairly or getting the opportunities to grow and learn, similar to an employee not being given the opportunity for promotions. Players will even sit out of games, not perform at their highest standards or ask for a buyout to leave their current organization. This could be seen as unprofessional since they are not fulfilling their contract and helping the organization as best as they can. Though when the organization trades a player away due to various reasons, such as not wanting to pay their contract or not believing that they are not right for the team, many organization sees this as "just business". There are many differing point of views in the public eye such as expecting the player to be loyal to a team even though the team might not be loyal to them, similar to a CEO jumping from company to company to boost their image and future success, but expecting the employee to stay in a stagnant position within the company.
Referee and Fan InteractionEdit
Player interaction with referees and fans are similar to employees interacting with those from another division and clients, respectively. Though when there is a conflict between an employee from one division to another from a different division the conflict is usually being seen from both point of views. While in the NBA when a player argues with a referee, the players seem to face all the consequences. Consequences from when players argue with a referee can include fines, suspensions, or technical fouls which can lead to the other team gaining points or a player potentially being suspended. This can sometimes be warranted, but referees rarely get punished by the NBA for making the wrong calls which can lead to giving one team a higher advantage. The players seem to have to uphold a higher standard than referees even though both are employed by the NBA.
Fans are like the clients of the NBA where they provide sources of revenue. Many times, interactions are in good nature with autographs being given out, fans cheering for their team or participating at a player's personal basketball camp. There are times when fans seem to cross the line and cause conflicts between them and the player. One such incident happened on February 2, 2021 during a match between the Los Angeles Lakers and Atlanta Hawks. Los Angeles Lakers player Lebron James got into a verbal spat with a court-side fan who he called "Court-side Karen." One moment during the interaction the fan said, "Excuse me, I have court-side seats that I pay for. F--- you, LeBron. ... You’re going to let a 25-year-old girl intimidate you during a game?" This fan seemed to believe that due to her paying the company, the NBA, that she is able to heckle the players. Though this fan was later escorted out, there have been similar instances where a fan will get carried away and start having an argument with a player with little consequences. Public perception sees a player response as unprofessional as the fans are those who "pay" their salary causing many players to be weary of the interactions with them.
The professional standard for players during these type of interactions is to play the game and not get caught into an argument. Even though players are seen as unprofessional with their responses, one can say that the other parties, fans and referees, are acting unprofessional by making the wrong calls or having verbal disputes with players. The NBA is a business, but at times does not act as a professional or fair one, because of their expectation of players to be held to higher standards than others within the company.
Professional athletes earn their living by winning games. However, there are different means of achieving that end and as result, two types of players with different ethical codes emerge: honest and dirty players. Honest players play strictly by the rules of basketball and believe that contests should be won on skill alone. They view cheap plays and fooling the referees as a breach of professional conduct and as an affront to the game of basketball as a pure athletic competition. Dirty players, on the other hand, believe that winning should be pursued by whatever means necessary. Dirty plays are viable tactics and fooling the referee is just another tool in the toolbox. Because all players have the ability to cheat, any player who does not take advantage of those strategies is not giving his full effort for the team.
The NBA is "a form of entertainment," not a pure athletic event. As such, the players are held to two professional standards: as an athlete and as an entertainer. The NBA appreciates the talent and artistry of true athletes, however as a business they recognize the value of building up star athletes. These two principles can sometimes conflict as can be seen with the cases of flopping and the training of referees. While the NBA strives to discourage the deceptive act of flopping by fining players, it encourages referees to give leeway to the most valuable players to promote business. Navigating these discrepancies in the workplace creates moral dilemmas for NBA players.
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