LONDON: The NBA has become one of the most popular competitions in the world in recent years, with the likes of Steph Curry, Kevin Durant and LeBron James becoming global superstars.
As a product it is slick, glamorous and boasts celebrity fans, from the rap world to Hollywood royalty.
But the glitzy facade was shattered on Saturday when the Lakers-Rockets game descended into chaos, with both teams getting caught up in an ugly melee. Someone claimed to be spat on, punches were thrown, and three players had to be ejected from the game as the unruliness spilled over into the crowd.
In LeBron James’ home debut for the Lakers, he ended up playing peacemaker, not play-maker. Afterwards, no one was talking about his performance or the fact his team lost again. The result seemed almost irrelevant.
That fracas came hours after tension on the touchline in the Chelsea vs. Manchester United Premier League clash saw United boss Jose Mourinho lose his cool and need to be restrained in an ill-tempered scuffle with a Chelsea coach. And earlier this month, the hotly anticipated MMA match-up between Khabib Nurmagomedov and Conor McGregor witnessed disgraceful scenes as both fighters got involved in fights with each other’s coaching teams in the aftermath of the bout.
Unwarranted violence and aggression are becoming commonplace in sport, and yet it seems to be tolerated more and more.
What will happen in these cases?
Likely a short suspension here, a nominal fine there. Certainly less than the repercussions would be if similar behavior occurred on the streets away from sporting arenas.
Sport stars are extremely wealthy individuals and the vast majority of fines issued by sporting governing bodies are a drop in the ocean. Likewise, weeks-long suspensions seem scant punishment for actions that would see most other people fired.
Top-level sportspeople are also role-models to millions of people. What sort of message does it send to young people striving to reach the top of their chosen sport when they see those already there appearing to be given a free rein to behave inappropriately with impunity? Sport has enormous power in society, and means a lot to many people. It should be setting an example.
As such, it is about time sporting authorities started handing out punishments that fit the transgressions: Banning individuals for months and years rather than weeks, or issuing fines to the tune of a whole season’s wage. Firms must pull out of multimillion-dollar sponsorship deals instantly.
Nobody balked at the year-long bans for cricketers Steve Smith and David Warner for ball-tampering earlier this year. It was welcomed.
It may seem an overreaction, but something has to be done to deter the sort of behavior seen at the Staples Center, Stamford Bridge or in Las Vegas for the good of professional sport.