AS YOU LIKE IT

by David Sisler

After last week-end's sporting farce an irresistible contest, the rematch that had fans chomping at the bit, a fight to sink your teeth into you may have forgotten that the Chicago Bulls defeated the Utah Jazz a few weeks ago, and won their fifth NBA crown in seven years.

The Jazz refused to roll over, winning the first two games back on their home court to tie the series at 2-2, only to drop the next two games. With five seconds to play in the sixth game, and with the score tied at 86, Jordan passed to Steve Kerr. Kerr's shot made it 88-86. A steal by Scottie Pippen and a pass to Toni Kukoc, who slammed in the final two points, sealed the win.

Before that moment, the Bulls advanced through the playoffs by beating, the Washington Bullets, the Atlanta Hawks, and the Miami Heat. And as William Shakespeare said, "Thereby hangs a tale."

During the season and the playoffs, New York Knicks star Patrick Ewing repeatedly said, "It's our destiny to win the championship this year." Throughout most of the playoffs, it seemed as though Ewing would get his shot at the NBA crown, something that has eluded him throughout his professional career. The Knicks had the Miami Heat down three games to one, an almost insurmountable lead, but for New York and Ewing, the season ended with a seventh game loss in the Eastern Conference semifinals to Miami.

The Heat were so overmatched in the early games of the contest that Coach Pat Riley was hinting of making off season changes in his team. Then came Game Five.

The Knicks Charlie Ward fouled P.J. Brown. Brown felt it was a cheap shot, aimed at his knees, and retaliated, tossing Ward over his shoulder. The Knicks bench emptied and when it was all over, six players were suspended. Brown was suspended for two days. Ewing, Ward, Allan Houston, Larry Johnson and John Starks were each disqualified for one game. Because the NBA rules require a team to have at least nine players dressed and available to play, the Knicks' suspensions were split between the final two games of the series.

Heat coach Pat Riley asked the league not to suspend any players. "Why don't you wipe everything clean and let's just play it straight up?" The suspensions were appealed and upheld.

Knicks president Ernie Grunfeld said, "It's sad that they have to be suspended. The reason they did it was the right reason" (Translation: it is okay to do the wrong thing for the right reason).

With the Knicks shorthanded and outplayed, the Heat became the sixth team in playoff history to erase a 3-1 deficit and win a series.

After his team was eliminated, Patrick Ewing said, "I'm disappointed, upset, hurt, bewildered by all that happened. I got suspended for being a few feet from our bench... I thought what the NBA did was wrong. They robbed me, robbed us of a great opportunity."

Ewing and his president missed the point. Five members of the Knicks left the bench during a fight. The rules of the league were violated and the penalty for violating that particular rule calls for suspension.

Major League Baseball would have suspended the players, the players union would have appealed faster than you could have spit and the players would have continued to play. "The next time you are in New York," they would have been told, "stop in and we'll discuss this, slap your wrist and let you return to your bad behavior." The NBA acted promptly and correctly and courageously.

Maybe next season the players who are on the bench when a fight breaks out will remember the demise of the New York Knicks and stay behind the lines. These men are called "professional athletes." It is time they started behaving in a professional manner. The message sent by the league office is clear: you are not allowed to play "as you like it," but according to the rules of the game. The bottom line in this saga is not a championship won or lost. It is about violating clearly defined rules and paying the penalty.

The Bible says little about sports (racing and wrestling are prominent, however), but it does speak clearly about the penalty for violating the rules of Almighty God. "Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God."

Violate God's rules and you are disqualified from God's kingdom. Unlike the NBA, however, God does grant appeals, and may overturn His own rulings: "And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God."

-30-

Published in the Augusta Chronicle 7/5/97

Copyright 1997 by David Sisler. All Rights Reserved.

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