Are the NBA's Anti-Fighting Policies Actually Working?

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Are the NBA's Anti-Fighting Policies Actually Working?
Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Thanks to the recent fight between the Indiana Pacers and the Golden State Warriors, David Lee and Roy Hibbert were each suspended a game, while Lance Stephenson, Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson were each fined $35,000.

In other words, slaps on the wrist were given and everybody moved on.

The fight in question was never really a fight in terms of the actual definition of the word, but as far as the NBA is concerned these days, this one was actually a bit of a doozy.

That should tell you a bit about how far the league has come since Ron Artest and Stephen Jackson spilled into the stands in Detroit back in 2004.

Roy Hibbert and David Lee were a bit rough down the stretch, bumping and shoving each other intermittently, so things got heated.

Hibbert bumped Lee on the way down the court, so Lee retaliated with a hard foul. Hibbert was upset so he gave Lee a bit of a shrug-off shove, Lee slammed his shoulder into Hibbert and the rest was a jumble of men tripping over each other, shoving a bit here and there.

It was physical basketball that never really got out of hand. Even when the "fight" went down, things still weren't too out of hand.

That's the road that the NBA has gone down, and regardless of the people nostalgic for the days when Larry Bird and Dr. J could drop gloves and square off, it's good for the league.

After the aptly named Malice at the Palace, David Stern was done dealing with the thuggery that had engulfed the NBA. The reputation the league had earned wasn't appealing to the casual fans, and the game's popularity was plateauing.

Stern put a more strict policy toward fighting into place, and it's worked.

From suspending players for leaving the bench during a scuffle (which was already a rule when the Detroit-Indiana fight went down) to increasing the severity of flagrant fouls, making a clear path foul more detrimental to a player's team, and expanding the technical foul rules.

You'll notice when watching the replay of the initial altercation between Lee and Hibbert that Lee's reaction to Hibbert's shove is not to throw a fist, but to fling his shoulder at Hibbert.

Players now know the limits of what the NBA will and won't allow, and it's very cut and dried. Starting a fight is a no-no, but using fists, elbows, knees, feet or a head is a big-time no-no. You can join in on the fracas as long as it looks like you're trying to break the fight up.

Protecting your teammate has gone from trying to knock the head of the guy who hit him clean off to merely stepping in and giving him a bit of a shove with your body.

The game isn't completely neutered, as there is quite a bit of leeway with what the players are allowed to do, but the game is definitely different than it was a decade ago.

Of course, saying that the league has curbed fighting isn't to say that the way of the closed fist is on the way out in the NBA.

There are always going to be incidents in which players get so upset that fists are going to fly, or perhaps elbows.

The point is that the league's increasingly disciplinarian policies have done their job to curtail the physical parts of the game that are unnecessary. They've lessened the prevalence of the superfluous fighting that used to be the way to settle things, instead making the guys play basketball.

Punishments aren't so harsh that everybody's playing with thoughts of getting suspended for weeks in the back of their mind, which gives the players leeway and allows the game to stay physical without getting out of hand. 

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