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NBA ‘Bad Boy’ Wants Players to Do as He Says, Not as His Teams Did


Joe Dumars chuckled at his desk in Midtown Manhattan as framed portraits of links to the N.B.A.’s past — Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain and Gus Williams — loomed behind him.

His Detroit Pistons of the Eighties were notorious for the bruising physicality of Rick Mahorn, Bill Laimbeer and Dennis Rodman and earned their Bad Boys nickname with a knock-you-down-and-answer-questions-later bully brand of basketball.

No way could Dumars pick only one particularly egregious play to characterize the teams.

“I’ve had Rick and Bill say to me, ‘Next time he gets it, let him beat you.’ They’d drop people,” Dumars said. “They desired to send a message. They didn’t take an evening off of being physical.”

Also they are just like the portraits in Dumars’s office — pieces of a bygone N.B.A. era. Dumars, 59, oddly enough, is the one ensuring of it. He develops latest rules and imposes discipline in his first 12 months because the N.B.A.’s executive vice chairman, head of basketball operations.

Yes, a principal member of the Bad Boys is charged with punishing those that would dare throw elbows and punches identical to his Pistons teammates did.

“It’s really good to have any person that knows what it looks like,” Dumars said. “There isn’t any utopian view here. I do know the ugly side of it. I do know the physical side of it. I do know the nasty side of it.”

This season, players and coaches have been fined or suspended for a lot of infractions: hitting, kicking and throwing balls into the stands; grabbing one player by the neck; striking one other within the groin; making obscene gestures and using inappropriate language. So many players were suspended after a melee between the Magic and the Pistons that the punishments were staggered to be sure that Orlando had enough players to proceed competing.

Discipline within the N.B.A. is more consuming and complicated than ever, because it’s easier for wayward behavior to be captured, broadcast, debated and overblown. Players are fined for offensive social media posts, and fans can share videos and screenshots of bad interactions with players. Memphis Grizzlies guard Ja Morant was recently suspended for eight games after livestreaming a video on Instagram while holding a gun in a nightclub. It’s not the identical league Dumars played in for 14 years.

“I’m not a traditionalist in the way in which that the sport can’t ever change,” he said.

In late January, a general manager sent Dumars a video of an opponent stripping the ball from considered one of his team’s players. The defender jumped and swung where he thought the ball can be, but he hit the player’s head as a substitute and was called for a foul. The G.M. wanted the decision to be upgraded to a flagrant foul.

Dumars, who was Detroit’s president of basketball operations for 14 seasons, knows from experience that teams will attempt to extract a bonus by almost any means. That always includes tattling to the league.

Dumars and 4 or five people review foul calls by cycling through clips from several angles. Monty McCutchen, a former longtime official, and Byron Spruell, the president of league operations, are frequently a part of the method.

“You’re attempting to drive consistency, so people know that you simply’re fair about this,” Dumars said. “Every part that we do, there’s precedent.”

The review group concluded that the head-hitting play didn’t meet the factors for a flagrant foul. “He was going for the ball and he happened to catch the guy,” Dumars said.

The play probably wouldn’t have received a second thought during Dumars’s N.B.A. profession from 1985-99.

“Outright brawls where guys are flinging punches, throwing guys over the scoring table,” Sam Smith, a longtime basketball author, said of the league’s rivalries of the Eighties. “Fights going into the stands. Stuff that no one on this generation has witnessed.”

Smith wrote “The Jordan Rules,” the 1991 book that detailed the Bad Boys’ ruthless strategies to attempt to stop Michael Jordan with hard contact when he played for the rival Chicago Bulls.

Although the Jordan rules are nostalgic hyperbole to an extent — “just attempting to make that guy more often than not go left,” Dumars said — those Pistons teams ensured opponents’ aching bodies wouldn’t allow them to forget who they’d played the night before.

Smith said, “There hasn’t really been a rivalry for the reason that Bulls and the Pistons, a rivalry within the sense of absolute bitterness where the teams hated one another and wanted one another not simply to fail, but for careers to be over.”

Dumars drew just 4 technical fouls over his 14 seasons. “I used to be uncontrolled,” he joked. “But considered one of those was rescinded.”

The N.B.A.’s sportsmanship award is called after him now, but he wasn’t all the time the court choir boy. He’d speed as much as attempt to initiate contact when he saw a giant man approach to set a screen.

“The referees never checked out me in a negative way because they assumed I wasn’t trying to do this,” Dumars said. “I probably got away with it somewhat bit greater than I must have, just on fame.”

The N.B.A. didn’t call flagrant fouls until the 1990-91 season. The 12 months before, on-court altercations led to 67 fines (of 101 total fines) and eight suspensions. Typical seasons within the Bad Boys era had about 40 fines and a half-dozen suspensions for on-court altercations. Last season, there have been 48 fines — 15 for on-court altercations — and 180 flagrant fouls. The N.B.A.’s data on individual and total flagrant fouls goes back to only the 2004-5 season, a league official said.

“It’s a distinct game and in case you tried to play the style that we played, in today’s game, you’d be in foul trouble,” Dumars said.

And in case you complain about it, you would possibly get in trouble, too.

Toronto’s Fred VanVleet knew the implications. “I’ll take a fantastic,” he said before profanely criticizing the referee Ben Taylor by name after a recent game against the Los Angeles Clippers. “I don’t really care.”

Dumars fined him $30,000 the following day for “public criticism of the officiating.”

Players and coaches often complain about officiating, even when it costs them. In December, for instance, Dallas Mavericks Coach Jason Kidd was ejected and fined $25,000 for confronting a referee during a game. The week before, Sacramento Kings Coach Mike Brown was ejected and fined $25,000 for “aggressively pursuing” an official during a game.

Some players, like Golden State’s Draymond Green, have argued that they were unfairly called for technical fouls, or that they were punished more harshly than others for similar violations. The N.B.A. rescinded a technical foul that had been called on Green’s teammate Jordan Poole this month after he bounced the ball to a referee.

The punishments and the pushback aren’t unique to basketball, and Dumars said he’s open to hearing the grievances. His phone number is plastered around league locker rooms. Players, agents and coaches sometimes call. Mostly, it’s general managers, his former peers, politicking, complaining and gossiping.

One among Dumars’s former colleagues recently called him, bemoaning that his team had allowed 68 points by halftime.

“You recognize what the shame of it was?” he told Dumars. “We were up by 5.”

Many rules changes over time have made it easier for players to attain, comparable to considered one of Dumars’s initiatives for this season: stiffer penalties for defenders who commit blatant fouls to stop breakaway plays.

Teams are averaging 114.5 points per game this season, essentially the most for the reason that 1969-70 season. Fast break points are up. A latest player tops 50 points, it seems, nearly every night.

“The sport is so clean now, it’s nearly who’s the very best player,” Dumars said. “There’s nothing that’s junking the sport up.”

A automotive arrived on the N.B.A.’s Midtown headquarters in January to move Dumars to that night’s game between the Knicks and Los Angeles Lakers.

“Joe D,” a Madison Square Garden security guard said with a fist bump. “It was higher within the ’80s and ’90s.”

Dumars smiled, taking an elevator as much as the court level. Knicks General Manager Scott Perry pulled him aside for a brief conversation. A fan offered to purchase him a drink. “I don’t drink,” Dumars said, “but I’m hooked on popcorn.”

Lakers General Manager Rob Pelinka exchanged pleasantries with Dumars on the approach to his seat.

Days earlier, referees had missed a transparent foul by Boston’s Jayson Tatum on the Lakers’ LeBron James that will have allowed James to shoot free throws to attempt to win the sport in regulation. As an alternative, Boston won in additional time. Dumars was blissful that the referees immediately owned as much as the blown call after the sport, which rekindled a debate about how easy replay and coaches’ challenges ought to be utilized in the long run.

“Often, something happens in the sport that sparks a conversation, in order that’s on the table now,” Dumars said.

The Knicks-Lakers matchup featured few disputed plays and no technical fouls. Dumars watched, marveling on the longevity of James, who ended the night with a triple-double and would soon break Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s profession scoring record.

The Lakers beat the Knicks in additional time. Dumars walked contained in the underbelly of the Garden to an elevator, then to a automotive to take him back to his apartment.

The job doesn’t keep Dumars up at night, the way in which, say, trading a player once did.

It does keep him busy. Over the following few days, Memphis’ Dillon Brooks hit Cleveland’s Donovan Mitchell within the groin and Orlando’s Mo Bamba and Minnesota’s Austin Rivers fought. Brooks, Bamba and Rivers were all suspended. Mitchell was fined for retaliating by throwing a ball at Brooks and pushing him.

“You’re only a steward of the sport,” Dumars said. “You might have to be there to guard the sport and ensure that it’s clean. There’s all the time something. There will likely be something.”

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