Right now, mixing fun with games a good idea

April 19, 2007|By DAVID STEELE

If ever there was a time that laughter should not be punished, it's right now. A lot has happened in America the past couple of weeks, few of them inspiring laughter, most of them inspiring bitterness and pain.

Tim Duncan gave us laughter Sunday afternoon, big, wide-eyed, jaw-dropping, face-hiding laughter.

Joey Crawford punished him for it. Now, for punishing it, Crawford is being punished.

Good. I hereby nominate David Stern for president. He likely didn't mean to make this particular statement when he kicked out the veteran, highly respected NBA official for the final days of the regular season and the entire playoffs for his bizarre tangle with Duncan.

But the suspension did send a message that means everything in the environment we're all navigating today: What's wrong with a good laugh?

The closest we've come to a positive expression in the past couple of weeks has been tolerance - we'll take a day off from assigning blame for this insulting comment and for that improper prosecution. Or appreciation - what a nice homage by Major League Baseball to remember Jackie Robinson, or what a thoughtful gesture by the Washington Nationals to wear Virginia Tech caps at their game.

Actual fun, on the other hand, is harder to come by. So you get your chuckles when and where you can.

At Fenway Park, for instance, where a fan, for still-unknown reasons, chucked a slice of pizza at a nearby fan who had tried to catch a foul pop. That's funny, you ask? Well, it was Boston, so it could have been a steaming cup of New England clam chowder, and that wouldn't have been funny.

Or in outer space. On the International Space Station, astronaut Suni Williams ran a marathon on a treadmill while a fellow astronaut and her sister ran the real Boston Marathon below. If you didn't catch the shots of Williams and her zero-gravity hair, you must. And if you thought, "Better that than driving across country in a diaper," don't feel bad. NASA's publicity department probably thought that, too.

Or in the Philadelphia Phillies clubhouse. You have to figure that on temper alone, Crawford and manager Charlie Manuel are related.

And you get them from Duncan, the two-time NBA Most Valuable Player and three-time NBA Finals MVP, who generally shows as much emotion as a basket support. His San Antonio Spurs teammates have sworn for a decade that away from public view he's a 7-foot Caribbean Seinfeld, but on the court he'll raise an eyebrow in surprise once a month or so, and that's it.

However, he apparently found Crawford's officiating in Sunday's nationally televised Spurs-Dallas Mavericks game to be side-splitting. In Crawford's defense, his work generally is less hilarious than that of his colleagues; he's not just one of the good ones, he also might be the only good one left in the league.

Not on this afternoon, though, in Duncan's mind. The exact sequence of events is still unclear, but apparently at some point, between slapping a technical on Duncan for a call on-court to slapping a second on him while Duncan sat on the bench cracking up, Crawford barked, "Do you want to fight?"

That's a howler right there, considering Duncan pretty much wins the tale of the tape between them, although Crawford, besides being a tough ref eager to make tough calls, is what you'd call feisty.

Crawford's on-court explanation, picked up by the network that had miked him for the game, was he thought Duncan was trying to show him up. Yeah, whatever.

This is the year of the thin-skinned referee in the NBA, and a policy put in place this season demands that officials bring an itchy trigger finger to every game. This supposedly makes the game better, with player not overreacting to every call. Seemingly, it's much better to have the ref overreacting to every reaction.

Never mind all that, though. In these troubled times, who has the right to legislate against laughing?

Crawford has always been one of the most gregarious refs you'll ever see in any sport and has engaged me and everyone who has ever covered the NBA in countless illuminating conversations over the years. But, seriously, Joey, was it that big a deal? Wouldn't a simple "Cut it out!" have sufficed? Or turning the other cheek? Or offering up the traditional NBA makeup call at the other end?

Yes, it was in the heat of battle, so you don't usually have time to take in the atmosphere outside of the arena. But if there ever was a time to not take oneself too seriously, especially in the world of sports, this is the time.

Besides, the mere sight of Duncan laughing so animatedly was worth whatever gripes the two had between each other. That's the funny guy they keep swearing is buried in there, huh? It would have been the video clip of the week. With what else is going on, maybe the clip of the year. The Big Stoneface cracks - cracks up!

It might even have become contagious.

And we all could use that.

david.steele@baltsun.com

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