The King & The Malice at Little Caesar’s Palace

Nov 21, 2021; Detroit, Michigan, USA; Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James (6) reacts after getting ejected from the game during the third quarter against the Detroit Pistons at Little Caesars Arena. Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

NBA players don’t really fight anymore. Let’s get that out of the way.

The days of that Charles Barkley- Shaquille O’Neal fight that they love to show on Inside the NBA are long gone, and they had their last breath 16 years ago in the Detroit Pistons’ old arena, at the infamous Malice at the Palace.

Nowadays NBA players will shove each other a la Jokic-Morris last week, or we might get some borderline homoerotic headbutting. At the worst, we’ll get one punch thrown like the Rondo-Chris Paul fight a couple years ago.

Well, we had the worst Sunday night at the Lakers-Pistons game.

ISAIAH STEWART WANTS LEBRON pic.twitter.com/gw6u84Pqr6— Rob Perez (@WorldWideWob) November 22, 2021

@Worldwidewob on twitter

Intentional or not, LeBron James definitely deserved a flagrant two for that- plays like that are the reason the rule exists. It’s everything that happens after that makes this moment worth talking about.

The biggest question I come away with is: how did I not know Isaiah Stewart was ‘bout his business like that? There aren’t many real tough guys left in the league- the James Johnsons & Jimmy Butlers are the exception, not the rule anymore. But he wanted it with the most famous, important basketball player of the millennium and had the, um, guts to try and rush him after the initial scuffle. It’s dumb as hell, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t miss goons having their time in the spotlight in the NBA. So many casual fans have learned his name in the last 24 hours, and if he has even slightly competent management, he’ll find a way to make a bag off of it. Don’t cry for Isaiah Stewart. He’ll be fine

Second, who are these sweatsuits getting in between everyone? It’s hard to know who’s who on an NBA bench other than the head coach unless you’ve got a Ty Lue or a Jason Kidd as an assistant coach like the LA teams in 2020. But I don’t need to know names- I just want job titles. Are you an assistant coach? One of the trainers? Bron’s personal bag carrier? I didn’t see Frank Vogel or Dwayne Casey down there. At what point do you see these things happen and you just say ‘mm mm, I get paid too much for this’.

And of course, there’s the bigger picture stuff. We learned today that Isaiah Stewart will be suspended for 2 games, and much (much) more importantly, Lebron James will be suspended for 1. I’m surprised Stewart’s punishment isn’t more severe, but at the end of the day he plays for the lowly Pistons – does anyone outside of Michigan really care?

Like I said, LeBron’s foul was definitely a flagrant 2 – get him outta the game- but I don’t think it was intentional. James has absolutely no history of being a dirty player (unless we count flopping), and you can see from the video that he immediately made an attempt to apologize with no interest in escalating things. In a vacuum I don’t think he deserves a suspension, but I don’t disagree with him getting one when you consider the optics and the wider league identity.

The NBA needs to think about its image at all times, and even though in the long run something like this might actually garner enough clicks to be worth it, this isn’t how the league wants to look anymore. Suspending the most recognizable face in the game is never something Adam Silver would want to do, but it is the smartest thing to do. We might be at a point where the needle needs to start moving back in the direction of 90’s basketball- fans have loved the new foul rules, and the zeitgeist of teams breaking basketball with the 3-pointer & analytics is beginning to get some vocal pushback beyond the old-heads. But letting something like this go without decisive punishment, would be way too much of a leap in that direction, way too soon.

Regardless, this was the most eventful game of basketball between two teams with losing records we’ve had in a couple years. And if it had gone without punishment, it could’ve been a watershed moment in NBA history, similar to the last infamous fight in a Detroit arena. Instead, it’s just the only non-Cade Cunningham Pistons story we’re probably going to talk about all year. Enjoy the shine while you’ve got it Pistons fans.

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