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Sunday, Jan. 23, 2011

HOOP SCOOP

Washington, Rauf bans smack of a double standard


Osaka's Lynn Washington and Kyoto's Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf, two of the league's marquee players, served one-game suspensions last Sunday for separate incidents. Talk about a double dose of bad publicity for the bj-league.

Ed Odeven

Washington took his frustrations out on a pair of chairs and a white board in the Evessa locker room after his team's loss to the Saitama Broncos last Saturday in Kasukabe, Saitama Prefecture.

Abdul-Rauf was penalized for a punching foul against Shiga's Takamichi Fujiwara in Saturday's game.

Both suspensions were announced on Sunday by the league office. The league will cite the rule book when it hands out a suspension. Then the matter is over and done with as far as the league is concerned.

But shouldn't there be some type of appeals process for the players?

Shouldn't teams demand that a process actually exists. A large number of foreign players, roughly 40 percent of the players (including about three-fifths of all starters), have no true voice of representation at the league office — by design — and this is another example of that, even if the above rulings were 100 percent appropriate.

"No team wants to get involved in foreign players issues to help," Washington told Hoop Scoop. "I am one of the blessed foreign players who have been able to keep my foreign roots while also being accepted by the Japanese, (but) I know now this league will suspend you for anything. My team needed what I did and hopefully we can get back on the right track.

"My actions had nothing to do with the refs or the other team. Our team needed to recognize a few things. I usually lead by example but that was not working anymore so I had to do something dramatic. I was willing to pay for what I did, but a suspension was far too harsh. As players we need a mediating body on our behalf. I don't know what gives.

"I hope in the future the league can really look into issues such as suspension without outside influence. I was really suspended by the Saitama president (Toshihiko Narita)."

Narita, who has been around the bj-league since day one, certainly has some clout with the league office, and deservedly so. That doesn't mean, however, that he should be able to get a player suspended on another team by pressuring the league, which certainly appears to be the case here.

The timing of Washington's suspension, before the second game of a two-game series, raised some eyebrows. After all, he is Osaka's best player and a two-time league MVP.

The Broncos beat the Evessa — playing without the suspended Washington — the following day to win their seventh straight game.

Is the league unfairly targeting foreigners for suspension?

Maybe not, but the timing of Washington and Abdul-Rauf's suspensions was lousy, to say the least.

On Wednesday, the league handed Fujiwara a one-game suspension for criticizing the officiating during a post-game interview on Sunday. In addition, he was issued a flagrant foul at the 2:19 mark of the second quarter for his exchange with Abdul-Rauf on Saturday and was assessed a fine.

Washington pointed out that the league will discipline coaches if it deems a situation calls for it. He cited former Evessa coach Kensaku Tennichi's suspension last season after he ran after a referee and kicked a door after a loss to the Apache in Tokyo.

Washington, speaking with the conviction of someone who cares about the league's future, also pointed out something that could become a black eye for the league in the future.

"The head coach for Hamamatsu (Kazuo Nakamura) is allowed to strike his players and there is no punishment for his actions. Is it because no one complains or is he above the law?" Washington said, without needing to remind anyone that the reigning champion Phoenix have won 24 of their 26 games this season.

Two of the league's top 10 all-around players, current Evessa standout Billy Knight, and Kyoto Hannaryz swingman Wendell White, left the Phoenix after the team's championship season.

Purely coincidental?

You be the judge.

Back to Abdul-Rauf's suspension, which happened under more "normal" circumstances, the league faces a real challenge of doing a better job of policing itself during games rather than retroactively.

"There haven't been that many cases of players being suspended. I remember four last season, and two so far this year," Akita Northern Happinets coach Bob Pierce said, "so the actual number is probably that or close to that.

"With cases like Mahmoud this year, Lynn last season, and (Shiga power forward) Gary Hamilton the second time he was suspended last season, the punch or elbow can be clearly seen on tape.

"The biggest issue seems to be that the officials during the game miss the punch altogether, or just call a regular foul, and it is only after a review of the tape that it is called a punching foul and the suspension is handed out.

"We tried to protest Gary's first suspension last season, but there was nothing on tape, so we couldn't prove that nothing happened. One referee insisted that he saw Gary hit the player, but Gary insisted he just gave him a friendly tap on the chest (like he did to his teammates almost daily in practice).

"So who was right? I don't know. Long afterwards Gary still insisted that he didn't do anything, whereas after the second suspension he readily admitted to throwing the elbow (in response to all the abuse and hits he had taken in that game).

Looking back at what appeared on film, did it appear Abdul-Rauf crossed the line between aggressive play and dirty play, I asked.

"I only watched about a minute of the game before Mahmoud threw the punch, but you could see that tension between Mahmoud and Fujiwara was escalating," Pierce said.

"Wara kept pushing him and bumping him, and Mahmoud had begun to bump and push him back. Then Wara gave him a hard foul. That looked close enough to an intentional hit that I was surprised he didn't get suspended, followed by Mahmoud throwing the punch."

Has officiating improved since the bj-league's first game in 2005?

News photo
Lack of transparency: Osaka Evessa star Lynn Washington was suspended by the bj-league for a game last weekend in what appear to be dubious circumstances. YOSHIAKI MIURA PHOTO

In some cases, yes, but not enough to say there isn't room for vast improvements.

Would the league's referees benefit from mandatory annual summer camps run by NBA officials?

Absolutely.

After all, in the NBA, which features several world-class talent in every game, the refs face a never-ending challenge to police the game at a higher level, juggling tempers and egos, clean contact and dirty play.

"With Lynn last season, and Gary the second time, if you watch the game you can see the hits and contact they receive that eventually escalates into them retaliating," Pierce said.

"The 'victims' of these punching fouls are hardly innocent, and if the referees aren't going to stop the initial contact by calling fouls (or talking to the players) then players will eventually say enough is enough and hit back . . ."

He added: "The latest (incident) with Mahmoud and Wara is a good example. Right before this incident there was some bumping and pushing on an inbounds play that took place right in front of the referee. The official should have stopped right then and either called fouls or grabbed those two and talked to them and told them to knock it off."

Both suspensions are reminders that the league has a difficult road ahead. And with four new teams joining the fray next season, that work will only become more difficult.



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