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Breaking the rules: NBA

Auerbach's gone, but spirit of gamesmanship lives on

Posted: Wednesday July 25, 2007 12:02PM; Updated: Wednesday July 25, 2007 2:01PM
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Red Auerbach
When he wasn't looking for any advantage he could use on the floor, Red Auerbach specialized in exploiting any edge he could gain before the ball was even tipped.
Walter Iooss Jr./SI
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Once Red Auerbach went to that old overheated locker room in the sky last October, suspicions about presumed cheating -- let's use the more polite "gamesmanship" -- in the NBA decreased exponentially. Actually, things had cleaned up well before Red's death. In fact, we can pretty much fix the time as to the mid-1990s, when the decrepit Boston Garden, which Auerbach had turned into his own smoky palace, was razed.

It is impossible to overstate how much the Garden figured in the mythology of cheating in pro basketball. Some of it is fiction, but some of it is fact. I know for certain that the Celtics were familiar with the dead spots on the parquet floor, where visiting teams would invariably lose the ball. More than once I sweated in the visiting locker room, where almost unbearable waves of heat streamed out of ancient radiators during May and June playoff games. On more than one occasion I arrived at Boston Garden with visiting teams for morning shootarounds only to discover that maintenance crews were still covering up the ice from the night before.

Those were not accidents. And though that latter form of gamesmanship was practiced most often under Auerbach's disingenuous guidance -- "Huh? Whatta ya talking about?" -- it took place all around the league, where a catch-as-catch-can atmosphere prevailed for visiting teams hoping for practice and shootaround venues. I was with the Celtics on a trip to Indianapolis in the '80s, for example, when they were locked out of Market Square Arena in the dead of a winter morning and stood outside, cussing and stomping their feet to keep warm.

New arenas and more stringent game-operation procedures took care of many of those matters. If a visiting team would get locked out now the league office would have a Blackberry-ed e-mail within minutes -- with this one big exception:

Most visiting locker rooms still suck. And it's deliberate.

The absolute worst are at the Detroit Pistons' Palace of Auburn Hills and the Milwaukee Bucks' Bradley Center. It's a wonder that visiting teams haven't commandeered public bathrooms for pregame and halftime meetings. And it's a bigger wonder that the NBA, which now has rules and regs for everything, does not legislate minimum standards for visiting locker rooms.

Otherwise, most of the gamesmanship now takes place during the game, especially since the NBA straightened out the injured-list rule a couple of years ago. (It used to be that teams invariably had at least two perfectly healthy players on the injured list; usually they couldn't remember whether it was their left ankle or their right that was supposed to be sprained.)

Here are five examples:

1. Bench players jump at visiting shooters

Watch a player attempt a 3-pointer deep in the corner. The bench is only inches away at that point. It is considered unsportsmanlike to lurch at a shooter, but it happens all the time. Have you ever noticed a player who just made a 3 give an "up-yours" gesture to the bench? Chances are, he had essentially countermanded multiple off-the-floor defenders.


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