Basketball Formalism Prevails

After my post yesterday afternoon, the NBA decided to suspend Phoenix Suns Amare Stoudemire and Boris Diaw one game each for leaving the bench during what, NBA executive Vice President Stu Jackson said, clearly was an "altercation." Watching the video again, I can't say I that Jackson was wrong under the rule as written. Even granting that some element of subjective judgment necessarily enters into determining what counts as an "altercation," clearly what was occurring when Stoudemire and Diaw left the bench was much more of an altercation than what was occurring when San Antonio Spurs Tim Duncan and Bruce Bowen left the bench earlier in the game.

Continuing the parallels with the arguments for formalism in law, Jackson stated: "No one here at the league office wants to suspend players any game, much less a pivotal game in the second round of a playoff series. But the rule, however, is the rule, and we intend to apply it consistently." Then, echoing Hart on the separation of law and morals, Jackson added: "It's not a matter of fairness, it's a matter of correctness, and this is the right decision at this point in time." Or as Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. reportedly said in response to Learned Hand's urging that he, Holmes, "do justice": "That is not my job." Then, in various versions of the story, Holmes adds either that his job is to apply the law or, perhaps more aptly here, to play by the rules.