Unwritten Rules and Unpublished Words

4 11 2010

The first rule of the NBA is you don’t tweet about the NBA. At least that’s what Kevin Garnett would like to believe after the Celtics Tuesday night game.

“KG called me a cancer patient,” Detroit Pistons forward Charlie Villanueva tweeted after the game. “I’m pissed because, u know how many people died from cancer, and he’s tossing it like it’s a joke.” Villanueva suffers from alopecia universalis, a medical condition that causes rapid hair loss and can apparently, at least to Garnett, make one look like a chemo therapy patient.

The real joke seems to be lost on Villanueva though. His tweet feels akin to the kid running home to tell his mother that the other kids were mean to him. A parting shot in what was a lost night for the Pistons as they were trounced by the Celtics 109 to 86, a game in which Garnett lead the team with 22 points. Perhaps out of pure frustration with his team’s effort Villanueva broke an unwritten rule of the court and turned a bad joke into and even worse debate over trash talking in the NBA.

Garnett was quick to put himself on the defensive, releasing a statement that called the incident a “major miscommunication.”

“I am aware there was a major miscommunication regarding something I said on the court last night,” read the statement. “My comment to Charlie Villanueva was in fact, ‘You are cancerous to your team and our league.”

Now, to believe that Garnett went through the trouble of thinking up such a nice and well thought out insult is to believe that it was the Celtics PR staff wearing number five that night in Detroit and not the 6’11” man from Farragut Academy. And though his joke was bad, perhaps even inappropriate, he is free to make it.

Basketball was a game that grew out of the playground. It is played by kids some of whom were nice than others and in the heat of competition are willing to say anything to gain an edge. Though people may have a hard time admitting it, when it comes to competition nothing is sacred.

“It’s a good thing they didn’t have tweets when we played,’’ Celtics president Danny Ainge told the Boston Globe. “Nothing was sacred. Not your mom, your skin color, your religion, your family. You could not print the stuff that was said.”

It’s not limited to the players on the court either. Take in a game in the balcony section of the TD Garden wearing an opposing jersey and you may find yourself hearing foul things about your mother from someone two rows behind you, someone who has never met you or your dear old mom their entire life. Even among friends, particularly males, the profanities that will bombard your ears would make K.G. proud.

Thankfully, these spats rarely move past the exchange of profane words. As human beings we have one big advantage over everything on this planet, we are rational creatures. Incidents like the Pistons-Pacers brawl in 2004 and Mike Milbury’s shoe attack in 1979 are the exception, not the rule when it comes to reaction to trash talking.

But sure enough, a simple tweet will light a powder keg that has everyone questioning themselves as if it was the Spanish Inquisition.

Whether it is calling for the all out banishment of a word, or somehow equating Garnett’s disregard for taste to a disregard of human life, people will shout at the top of their lungs that in rough game played in a country where freedom of speech is guaranteed we should all watch our language.

“I don’t like the whole thing, and the fact that we are talking about it is silly,’’ Doc Rivers told the Globe. “It’s amazing to me that this is news. It’s not sports.”

But in today’s wired world everything is news. This is far from the last time a miniscule thing will explode into an examination of ethics in sports. And for all those involved the words will eventually fade away leaving only their actions to be held accountable for.

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