Fender Bender in the Orlando Event Center

Ben SteigerwaltCorrespondent IMay 19, 2010

ORLANDO, FL - MAY 18:  (L-R) Referees Bill Kennedy #55, Joe DeRosa #14 and Marc Davis #34 talk in a huddle during a stop in play between the Orlando Magic and the Boston Celtics in Game Two of the Eastern Conference Finals during the 2010 NBA Playoffs at Amway Arena on May 18, 2010 in Orlando, Florida.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Doug Benc/Getty Images)
Doug Benc/Getty Images

You'd think Ron Artest went into the stands again last night.

The amount of negative press would indicate something like the Pacers brawl took place in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals.

But it didn't.  In fact, what took place in Orlando last night was about as far as you can get from what took place in Detroit in 2004.  Instead of the Malice in the Palace, it was the Fender Bender in the Orlando Event Center. 

If you weren't watching the game or haven't already seen the (ahem) heinous, offensive behavior of crew chief offiical Joe DeRosa in last night's game, I encourage you to take a look now before reading further.  You can watch the video here.

Now compare what you just saw to what you may have read on Twitter or the message boards at your favorite sports site.

My point?  This is absolutely nothing of importance.  Here is your context:

  1. Referee gets heckled.
  2. Referee begins to ignore heckling (as he normally would).
  3. Referee decides to have fun with heckler.

That's it.  The chronic overreactors (think Skip Bayless) would have you thinking a punch was thrown.  Imagine if LeBron James had done this with a rowdy fan in Boston.  Sure, there might be outcry (from a different segment of the population, I'd guess), but the vast majority of people would rush to James' defense, myself included.  The difference here is that we're dealing with a referee.

The video is at somewhat of a distance and a poor angle to judge the throw, but I would say that the pass qualifies more as a playful toss than anything with malicious intent.  I watched about eight more times to be sure.  It looked more like the fan, Franz Hanning, and DeRosa were practicing their three-man weave for the second half rather than anything violent.

Now, I don't know DeRosa's motives here for certain.  Like all good psychological evaluators, I'm basing my assessment entirely on a grainy YouTube clip.   By my assessment, he was trying to confuse and disorient, rather than maim.

Think about it.  If you were legitimately pissed at someone and holding a basketball, you're not giving it a light chest pass.  You're full-arm baseball tossing that ball, and you're aiming for his face.

It would have been unconscionable for DeRosa to attempt to physically harm a fan in any way.  That is simply not what took place here.  DeRosa could've taken the highest of roads and ignored Hanning.  Instead, he took a different path and tried to bring some levity into a situation with a belligerent fan.

I'm not saying that Joe DeRosa's choice here was the best possible one.  What I am saying is that his actions do not merit any on the part of the NBA.  Unless there is a rule stating there should be absolutely no interaction between those on the court and those in the stands, this shouldn't be in violation of any NBA statutes.  

And if that rule does exist, LeBron James' pre-game antics should be subject to the same punishment as DeRosa,

In fact, if the NBA does fine or suspend DeRosa regarding this scenario, they should seriously reconsider their seating arrangements.  Part of the draw for the NBA as a live event (as opposed to the NFL or MLB) is the sense of intimacy with the game and its participants.  This is created by having seats directly under the basket, behind the benches and behind the scorers' table. 

The obvious downside to this is that you're providing courtside fans, who have a sense of entitlement due to their expensive seating, with a forum.  Mix in alcohol and you're asking for more incidents like this. 

Officials, coaches and players have to maintain a professional demeanor regardless of what is said to or about them.  No such expectation exists for fans. 

Additionally, there are some inherent biases toward referees that encourage this sort of venom, especially if they make calls against the home team.  So it's asking quite a bit to assume that stoicism is and can be maintained in these situations.

The only condemnation I'll make in this situation is that DeRosa was a bit out of line to suggest that security remove or relocate Hanning.  Once he made his point with the pass, there was no reason to take things further.

So when you're reading the inflammatory columns about intolerable NBA officials' behavior or listening to the talking heads on the radio rant about DeRosa's misdeeds, take a step back and watch the video again.  This mountain is, in fact, a mole hill.