The NBA fined Marcus Smart $15,000 for criticizing officials after Saturday’s loss to the Houston Rockets, all but proving the Boston Celtics guard’s point about preferential treatment for superstars.
In a conversation with The Boston Globe’s Adam Himmelsbach, Smart took specific issue with the refs whistling him for fighting through a third-quarter screen where he believes Harden sold them a flop:
“When you’re playing a guy like that who gets those types of calls, it’s pretty much like you’re playing in foul trouble. You’ve got to play really certain. You have to be really solid. You can’t really play the defense that you want, because you know nine times out of 10 he’s going to get those calls. It doesn’t matter whether your hands are up or not. He still gets them. We saw that here tonight a few times, and we’ve seen that every other game. He has a way of using his hands, grabbing us, pulling us into him and drawing those fouls. He’s been doing it for a long time. He gets the benefit of the doubt.”
“It happens all around the league. You get certain players who get calls that other guys just wouldn’t get. We all know the rule. We all understand it. Superstars are going to be superstars. We get it. It is what it is. We’ve just got to play.”
Never mind that analysis of the NBA’s Last Two Minute Reports since March 2015 shows few players have benefited more from incorrect calls than Harden in that span. Never mind that anyone who has watched basketball since the Michael Jordan era will tell you that superstars receive preferential treatment and rookies get the opposite. All Smart has to do to prove his point is refer to the NBA’s lack of punishment against Harden when the MVP favorite levied similar criticism on Dec. 28.
That’s when, if you’ll recall, Smart baited Harden into a pair of offensive fouls in the final 7.3 seconds, turning a 98-97 deficit into a 99-98 win. Afterwards, the six-time All-Star shared the following:
“First of all, I want to know: How do you only have two officials in a national TV game? That’s the first question. But a lot of grabbing, a lot of holding. I mean, how else am I supposed to get open? The guy has two arms wrapped around my whole body.”
“It’s just tough. You can’t have two officials in a professional game. There’s a lot of no-calls that need to be called, because that changes the dynamic of the game. Then you’ve got fast-break points, no-calls, turnovers or whatever the case may be, but it’s a professional game, national TV, can’t happen.”
One referee suffered a back injury just prior to that game, which resulted in a two-man crew. As for the two offensive calls against Harden, the NBA ruled both correct calls in its Last Two Minute Report.
Oh, and Harden did not receive a fine for criticizing the officials. Nor did he receive one six days earlier, when he called the refs out for “bulls*** calls.” Unintentionally, to be sure, the NBA is sending a message: Harden can get away with publicly complaining about officials, but Smart cannot.
Dec. 28: James Harden complains about Marcus Smart getting too many calls in a close loss to Boston. No fine.
March 3: Smart complains about Harden getting too many calls in a close loss to Houston. $15,000 fine.
— Ben Rohrbach (@brohrbach) March 6, 2018
I’m guessing the NBA would say Smart’s implication that officials are inherently biased toward superstars is a greater threat to the integrity of the game than Harden’s complaints about poor officiating, and that there are statistics to suggest such bias does not exist. But then how do we explain Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr avoiding a fine after tweeting and then deleting this:
Why Steve delete this pic.twitter.com/4oAMgr7KaV
— James Margariti! (@JamesMargariti) February 2, 2018
If that argument doesn’t work for Smart, then he should submit this play a year ago as Exhibit D:
After Harden drew a foul by climbing on former Chicago guard Michael Carter-Williams’ back last season, then-Bulls teammate Taj Gibson came to MCW’s defense, telling ESPN, “[Harden] gets so many calls his way, it’s ridiculous sometimes. I guess we got to call ‘referee hotline.’ There were some rough calls late, we had some guys who learned a lot tonight.” Gibson did not get a fine for that, so maybe this isn’t about star treatment, after all; maybe it’s about the way the NBA feels about Marcus Smart.
What’s going to sting most for Smart, though, is writing that check on his 24th birthday knowing that Harden is making $23.8 million (plus $15,000) more than him. It definitely pays to be an NBA superstar.
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