Wednesday night, the Dallas Mavericks hosted the Los Angeles Clippers in what would normally be a run-of-the-mill regular season game in the cluster-mess that is the Western Conference. I say “normally” because after the events of this offseason, this game was anything but normal for a variety of reasons.
For those who missed the fireworks, early in free agency Mavericks owner Mark Cuban announced that his primary target this offseason would be DeAndre Jordan, the massive defensive stalwart of the Clippers. Jordan felt that his talents were being underutilized by the fine folks who run Lob City (and, it must be said, didn’t exactly see eye-to-eye with his partners in flight Blake Griffin and Chris Paul). A chance to be the quote-unquote centerpiece of a Dallas offense, with the talents of Chandler Parsons, Dirk Nowitzki and newly-signed and rehabbing Wes Matthews, seemed to be his cup of tea, as sources all over the league confirmed that Cuban and Jordan reached an agreement on a max-level contract in the “permissible tampering” period before the start of free agency.
And then all hell broke loose. In an unlikely sequence of events that was catalogued as it happened on the Twitterverse, the Clippers made a last-ditch effort (to quote the “Lord of the Rings” movies, a last alliance of men and elves marched into Mordor…) to try to woo Jordan back to Los Angeles, perhaps sensing that it was Jordan’s defensive presence and work on the glass that allowed Lob City to exist despite a subpar supporting cast. Emojis were slung around, including a rocket, a jet, a banana and (thank you, Paul Pierce) a screenshot of a picture. According to well-connected NBA sources, Doc Rivers and the entire Clippers clan set up shop in Jordan’s home and refused to leave until free agency began and a contract was signed.
At first, this seemed to be ridiculous because most high-profile free agents make up their minds exactly once. But then, DeAndre flip-flopped and re-signed with the Clippers, prompting a war of words that has continued unabated to this day. Cuban called Jordan a coward for not even having the guts to talk to him; Parsons spent much of the summer sniping at Jordan’s role as third or fourth offensive banana on the Clippers; and Wes Matthews received a bonus for not taking his talents elsewhere after the arrival of DeAndre collapsed.
The Clippers had already faced the Mavericks once in Los Angeles in a sloppy but testy game that was won by Lob City going away. Yesterday was the return of the prodigal son that never was, as Jordan walked back into the cauldron of the American Airlines Center. The boos were, to be precise, deafening.
At some point on the national TV broadcast Wednesday, Jeff Van Gundy said something that struck a chord, commenting on the fact that many of the same Dallas fans who would boo DeAndre mercilessly would then go out and cheer for Greg Hardy when the Cowboys play on Sunday. I let that thought simmer overnight, and I woke up with a splitting headache that may or may not be related to watching way too many Steph Curry highlights before I went to bed. But the more I thought about Van Gundy’s comment, the more I realized just how true it is.
Being a sports fan, a homer if you will, has somehow become an adequate lens through which to judge morality. DeAndre snubbed a town for basketball and personal reasons and is persona-non-grata in the greater Dallas area. Greg Hardy abused his girlfriend, threw her on a bed filled with guns and choked her, showed zero remorse for his actions, confronted a coach on the sidelines, talked about coming out “guns blazing” against New England (along more insensitive remarks), got into a massive fight with Dez Bryant and had his behavior not only go unpunished but get endorsed by the guys who issue his paychecks. The fact that he is a superlative pass-rusher isn’t just getting him paid — it is getting him off the hook in the eyes of those who run the team and those who follow the team. Just go to ESPN and look at the comments sections on any articles referencing Greg Hardy (warning: strong presence of repulsive behavior likely). The contrast between the vehemence of the hatred for Jordan and the acceptance of Hardy’s characters is troubling, to say the least.
There are good and bad people in all walks of life, but it is all a matter of degree. Jordan might be wishy-washy, but he isn’t a scumbag. Hardy might be a brilliant player, but he most definitely is a scumbag. Part of being a sports fan should be the ability and gumption to tell the difference.
Send Vignesh Venkataraman your favorite meme to come out of the DeAndre Jordan debacle at viggy ‘at’ stanford.edu.