briefly, on marcus smart and the social contract of a basketball game

I’m siding with Marcus Smart. Smart, a star Oklahoma State basketball player and likely NBA lottery pick in the summer, fouled a Texas Tech player on a breakaway last night, tumbled into the crowd, heard something a fan said, confronted the fan and shoved him. I’m sure the episode is all over teh interwebs.

I was watching it as it happened live on ESPNU; a person doesn’t snap to attention and face up another person like that unless that other person said or did something significant. My guess is that the guy said something racially-loaded or personally degrading–as though those are two distinct things–but who can know for sure?

The pundits, starting with the color commentator, instantly went into Ron Artest at The Palace mode, which ESPN’s Robert Flores shortly thereafter all but condemned–the damage was already done: the ticker already said that Smart ‘hit’ a fan, when it was a shove and he walked away of his own volition. Only later did they redact it to say he shoved a fan. I also agree that Smart should have been ejected, if for no other reason than his own safety.

What bothers me is that everyone jumped to, and will painfully continue to Monday, lecture Smart, vicariously through the TV audience, about how there is never an excuse to do what he did. This is a two-way street: the fan has an equal responsibility to enjoy the game, particularly a college basketball game when the NCAA talks up sportsmanship and class, without breaking the inherent social contract: cheer, root, chant, razz, whatever, just don’t let real life nastiness get in the way of the entertainment…after all, this is all this is. A game. Entertainment.

Buying a ticket does not entitle a person to push the envelope as far as possible just to see what may or may not happen. Crowds can be hit with technical fouls, too, and can even make a team forfeit a contest, which only makes the moralizing all the more absurd. Why should the man sitting behind the baseline be granted this obvious special pleading?

Marcus wasn’t very Smart–hope that line hasn’t been taken yet!–but the fan who instigated everything surely wasn’t, either. Act like you’ve been there before, right?


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