If you have followed the NBA playoffs this year you have probably witnessed Lance Stephenson’s attempts to take LeBron James off his game by getting in his head and tearing down his mental toughness. Stephenson’s latest stunt caught on camera was to blow in LeBron’s ear, something that has even irked his own boss (Pacers president Larry Bird). Prior to the ear blow, Stephenson has also been flopping so much that he has by fined by the league for his actions. While some of this may be viewed as comical, many others are growing tired of Stephenson’s tactics and are hoping the league cracks down on what is being viewed as “amateurish” by current and former players.
At the youth sports level, sportsmanship is something that is regularly emphasized and modeled. This philosophy seems to carry through interscholastic sports and even into collegiate sports, but somewhere between college and pro sports the idea of sportsmanship seems to become more diluted and watered down. For example, former All Star baseball player Mark Grace once said “if you aren’t cheating you aren’t trying,” implying that athletes need to push the envelope as far as they can if they want to win. Some baseball pitchers today still throw spitballs, and some batters still doctor their bats beyond what league rules allow for — yet this idea of gaining a competitive advantage is seen by some as a worthwhile pursuit.
Lance Stephenson is obviously trying to do whatever he can to also gain a competitive advantage, and there are some who laud him for his efforts. Regardless of where you stand on this issue, most would agree that there is a very fine line between what are admirable, strategic, competitive behaviors vs. tactics that are clearly unsportsmanlike. What’s “over the top” versus what is intelligent sport strategy is a very debatable subject, often prompting leagues to play catch-up with rules. For example, earlier this season Knicks player JR Smith repeatedly tried to untie an opponent’s shoes (he was fined by the league for this) — was this a smart basketball move, or a below-the-belt cheap play? Chances are the NBA will likely write something into their rules in the future to prevent this kind of action.
What Lance Stephenson will do tonight in game 6 is anybody’s guess, but it does appear as though increasingly more people are becoming bothered by his actions. Still, if the league allows for his tactics and the Pacers win, it is unlikely he will minimize his questionable behaviors, and, in fact, might be prompted to do even more. Is this the type of play you like to watch? Or do you wish the league would crack down more harshly on players who engage in behaviors that most would agree compromises the spirit of fair competition?