As the Portland Trail Blazers routed the Philadelphia 76ers, tempers flared up between Meyers Leonard and Daniel Orton. Leonard threw Orton to the floor and was ejected. He later said he was surprised by the referees' decision seeing how he simply lost his balance and happened to fall on top of Orton.
I mean, let's take a look at the action. You be the judge: Does this look like someone “losing his balance?”
It seems pretty obvious that Leonard used his entire body weight and a lot of momentum to throw his opponent to the ground. Someone losing his balance usually falls down—and if he happens to hold on to the opponent and drag him down to avoid leaving him open under the basket, that player will end up on top of him.
I get it, there is a lot of tough love close to the basket.
And when you look closely at the replay, you can see Orton grabbing and spinning Leonard on the pass at the other end of the floor and not getting called for it.
We have seen lots of scuffles between big men simply because they are prone to a lot of physical contact each and every trip down the floor.
An elbow in the rib cage here, a knee on the thigh there, pinching, pulling, pushing, shoving and whatever dirty tricks the referees don't catch.
Big men do have a tough life in the paint and need to have thick skin.
Just look at Shaquille O'Neal and how hard he was hacked all his career. A lot of the times referees wouldn't blow the whistle and the big guy simply took the punishment.
It is surprising, really, that he didn't explode more often than he did. Most of the times he walked away in a calm demeanor. He wouldn't show an opponent that something got to him.
It was a mind game.
Shaq, of course, also had the body for it.
Meyers Leonard, on the other hand, is definitely more fragile and will feel the punishment much more that comes with his position. Also, he quite simply isn't as intimidating as Shaq was.
Opposing centers surely took into account what Superman could do to them if they angered him too much. At least those with some brains and the ability to imagine broken jaw bones did.
Admittedly, Daniel Orton certainly isn't a choir boy. If he was, he'd be in the wrong business.
Looking at how both fought for position on various occasions during that game, it was obvious that Philly's big guy didn't shy away from physical contact. And why should he?
Maybe he dealt out more than Leonard, maybe he didn't—as long as the refs don't blow the whistle, you do whatever needs to be done to get your team and yourself an advantage.
Let's agree, Leonard's frustration probably had some justification to it.
Yet, his decision to throw Orton to the floor like a wrestler was over the top and had nothing to do with a regular basketball play. Neither did Orton's reaction to elbow him in the face in retaliation.
Do you believe Leonard's story about losing his balance?
But, just like Leonard's frustration, the Sixer's anger at that moment had some justification to it.
Both got ejected for valid reasons.
However, Leonard claiming “I kind of lost my balance” instead of manning up and admitting to what he did looks weak. Instead he should say, “I lost it (and I don't mean the balance) and made a bad move. My bad.”
Heck, if he doesn't care about potential fines, he could even say, "I did what I had to do. I am taking up martial arts now, so I can do it more efficiently next time." No, I don't suggest he actually says that. I am having my sarcastic day of the month.
Instead, he tried to justify “losing his balance” by telling reporters that Orton had elbowed him in the chest and face on previous occasions and in general played rather physically, getting away with a lot. Why would I even try to justify something that I obviously, according to my balance story, had no influence on?
Shaq never portrayed himself as the victim. If he lost his temper, he stood by it. He also made it clear that if any other player would try dirty tricks on him, he would do it again.
Usually, opposing centers got the message and were smart enough not to cross that line. The message Meyers Leonard sent with his interview is that you can frustrate and provoke him.
Guess who will get hassled next time around.