Sunday, January 17, 2010

Norman Dale's antics would not be allowed in the NBA

Everyone remembers Norman Dale's Hickory High debut. Hoping to instill the type of military discipline that made him a success wherever he went, Dale insisted on four passes before a shot. The directive led to a stagnant first-half offense, upsetting the locals and his players. In the second half, an annoyed Rade ignores his coach, firing away right after crossing midcourt. The tactic slices into the lead, but enrages Dale. Having learned that punching a player is not the best way to deal with insubordination, Dale benches Rade. Near the end of the game, with Hickory out of it, a Hickory player fouls out. Rade starts to enter the game. Dale tells him to sit down. He tells him again. Then Dale says perhaps the most famous line from the best sports movie ever:

His team was on the floor. It stunned the crowd, delighted a visibly intoxicated Dennis Hopper (and his character, Shooter), and even embarrassed the opposing team - note the guy on the free-throw box who shakes his head in pity after the decision. Hey, pal, worry about your own team. Columnists and bloggers surely ripped Dale the next day, perhaps calling for his head or at least a thorough examination of it.

Friday night during the Golden State-Milwaukee game, we saw more proof that Dale coached in the right era. His form of discipline and motivation would not have a home in today's game. Golden State started the game with just eight players, due to numerous injuries. One player got hurt during the game. Then three more fouled out, the last being Stephen Curry with just four seconds left in the game. At this point Don Nelson could have quoted Norman Dale and earned the love and respect of hoops fans and movie aficionados everywhere. Instead the NBA rulebook ruined the moment. NBA Rule 3 (Section 1) states that a team must have five players on the court. "If a player in the game receives his sixth personal foul and all substitutes have already been disqualified, said player shall remain in the game and shall be charged with a personal and team foul. A technical foul also shall be assessed against his team. All subsequent personal fouls, including offensive fouls, shall be treated similarly."

NBA ref Joey Crawford - who's been around so long he might have ejected Norman Dale at some point in his career - said he'd never seen the rule come into play prior to Friday night. It didn't affect the outcome, as the Bucks won 113-104. And Golden State would have only played with four guys for four seconds. But it still would have been entertaining.

One year, Minnesota high school basketball actually implemented a rule where a player who fouled out could remain in the game, but the team received a technical for every subsequent foul. I think the rule only lasted a year. Jeff Van Gundy has often advocated eliminating the disqualification of a player with six fouls. The argument is that no other sport punishes player infractions by forcing them to leave the game. Who wants to watch the best players sit? One idea has been to have penalties beginning after five fouls. Not that the idea will ever come to your local NBA arena.

Having said all this, there is a slight chance that perhaps, just maybe, Dale's radical stubbornness might be allowed in the NBA. The rule addresses what happens when a player fouls out. But I didn't see anything online talking about what would happen if a coach simply wanted to send a message. What if Phil Jackson had tired of Kobe launching threes in a comeback attempt against the Cavs? After five players foul out, Kobe jogs to the check-in, only to be told by Phil to sit down. What happens? In other words, does Rule 3 (Section 1A) force a coach to put five guys out there, even if he only wants to play four? I don't know. Probably not. The league wouldn't want some beleaguered coach in full meltdown mode running two players out onto the court in an attempt to embarrass the league and his team (Kurt Rambis might be very close to such an on-court breakdown).

No, we'll never see a Norman Dale in the NBA. That's good in some ways, as his unimaginative offense would make the Knicks of the 1990s look like Paul Westhead's Loyola Marymount teams. Ol' Norman belonged in high school or college. Those were his teams, no matter how many guys were on the floor.

1 comment:

Jerry said...

Ask Uncle Mike how it works to only have 4 on the floor - or three!