Nothin' but Net: Stephenson's act starting to wear thin

Philadelphia, PA ( - There was a video of a play in a high school game that surfaced years ago and has stuck with me for eternity.

One team had the ball under its own basket and precious seconds left on the clock when the coach presumably called an unusual inbounds play. The set saw one kid come out of line, break for the corner, get on all fours and bark like a dog.

The other squad looked in amazement. What the heck was he doing? And, in the process, stopped defending their own men. The barking set up a layup and a victory.

The moment still rewinds vividly in my mind, not just because of the bizarre nature of the play, but because of my father's reaction. I asked him what he thought of such a genius example of subterfuge.

"It's not basketball," he replied.

I won't bother asking him about a player in 2014 who blows in another player's ear. I know his answer. I agree with his stance and it's not just because he's 71 and I'm younger, but still oldish. It's disrespectful, uncalled for and diminishes the sport, the player and the series.

Problem is, not all of it is like that. There's a balance between what is fair, and what is out of bounds.

Lance Stephenson is certainly different. He is an agitator and that's nothing new in the NBA. Neither are his antics, as LeBron James called them. Doesn't make them right or appropriate.

The Stephenson show has been on display all season and by all accounts, it's been effective. We didn't see the truly odd stuff like we've seen in this postseason during the campaign, but Stephenson got into an occasional scrape.

There's nothing wrong with getting under the skin of the opponent. Stephenson mastered that with his yelling, and so forth, but also through physical, tenacious defense.

It's important to not lose sight of that. Stephenson, long before he turned into the modern Dennis Rodman, was a strong defender and improved his play so dramatically, he finished second in voting for the NBA Most Improved Player award.

But some of Stephenson's actions this postseason, especially in a pursuit of any minuscule advantage over James, have been too much.

It started with the gem stating LeBron's trash-talking was "a sign of weakness." James lit him up for 32 points, 10 rebounds and five assists the following games. Stephenson managed nine points.

Stephenson said he had "no regrets," then admitted he "said some things that shouldn't have been said."

Seemed like the end of it, and, talking a little junk isn't the end of the world. Everyone does it, but the poking the bear that is James, is stupid and there's no conceivable way Stephenson believed the outcome would be positive.

Jabbing at the man he's covering isn't crossing a line.

Blowing in a player's ear is.

It's completely disrespectful and unnecessary. What is to be gained from doing that?

"I felt like he was comfortable, and nobody really bothered him," explained Stephenson, not specifically about the blowing in the ear, but all of his nonsense. "I think getting under him and playing tougher defense on him bothered him a little bit."

James dismissed it and made a joke about blowing in his wife's ear. What's he supposed to do, dignify Stephenson's nonsense? Stephenson did it with the sole intent of trying to rattle James. It had nothing to do with defense or basketball.

If you think that sort of behavior is fair in a sort of "all's fair in love and war" mentality, I can't sway you. And, not all of Stephenson's actions bother me.

Flopping is a painful epidemic in the NBA. Stephenson became the first player fined twice for doing it in one postseason. Blatant flopping makes most of us ill and Stephenson is most the dramatic flopper in the league.

When he's trying to buy a call, he acts like Meryl Streep in a movie about a blind, alcoholic mother of a crippled child battling some terminal disease. Stephenson and James made minimal physical contact on Stephenson's first fineable flop and Stephenson reacted like he got hit in the stomach at close range with a Civil War cannon.

That's annoying, but the way the NBA has structured its fine system, I commend Stephenson. He's willing to pay $15,000 to get one single call that might help his team win.

"Just trying to help my team win, whatever it takes," Stephenson said. "There's a lot on the line now. Just trying to win games."

That was Stephenson's stock answer for any question about his hijinks following Thursday's practice.

The mind-set is commendable, but the execution is flawed.

Stop pinching, and blowing on other players and stop trying to listen to the Heat's huddle. Rajon Rondo did it against the Heat before in the playoffs. I hated it then, I hate it now. It's another disrespectful act that has no place.

No one seems to take the act seriously, but it bugs me to my core.

Stephenson's tomfoolery is only hurting himself. Everyone wants to talk about what he's doing with the foolishness, instead of his defense. When Stephenson pressured the ball full-court in the third quarter of Game 5, that changed the momentum. Stephenson deserves a ton of credit for Indiana staying alive and instead, it's questions about the last time someone blew in someone else's ear.

Maybe it's the growing levels of fuddy-duddy running thrown my paternal blood, but Stephenson's act is tiresome. The best word to describe it is unnecessary. It's diminishing a great player.

What's next for Stephenson? Is he going to bark like a dog?


- The Clippers are going to be sold for $2 billion. That's way more than I ever anticipated, but when the Milwaukee Bucks went for $550 million, you had to know the cost of business was astronomically high. I thought $1.5 billion was more reasonable. Darren Rovell speculated on ESPN Radio Friday the Clippers would have gone for $900 million pre-controversy. So Sterling got an extra $1.1 billion for being a racist coot. Shelly Sterling's tactics worked brilliantly. She set a deadline and made everyone pony up in short order. This saga is almost over.

- I love living in a world where Vinny Del Negro is a major candidate for two coaching vacancies, while George Karl is barely getting a sniff.

- The Memphis Grizzlies are so unstable, it's comical. First, owner Robert Pera wanted to fire head coach Dave Joerger, then he brings him back and gives him an extension. It seems Pera wants a bigger role than he anticipated and that could make Memphis hilarious for years to come.

- Greg Monroe would really intrigue me in this free agent class.

- Movie moment - Know what I miss? Drive-in movie theaters. I was fortunate, we had one very close to where I grew up. It was awesome and I don't think the experience would be lessened with age, now that I am a father and also, now that I can legally drink alcohol.

- TV moment - OK, I've avoided it long enough, but here we go. The DirecTV commercials with the marionettes is the creepiest thing ever in the history of television advertising. Interesting family dynamic, that's all I'll say.

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