Utah Jazz Coach Jerry Sloan drew a seven-game suspension Wednesday for shoving an official in the chest during the first quarter of Tuesday's game against the Kings at Sacramento, another in what seems to be a string of incidents involving players, coaches and referees in the past month.
It's also one of the longest suspensions in the last 10 seasons, joining two other incidents in which players were involved in confrontations with officials. In 1996, Dennis Rodman was suspended for six games for headbutting an official and Nick Van Exel was suspended for seven for shoving a referee into the scorer's table.
"Obviously his behavior was out of line, and the message is clear that that type of behavior cannot be tolerated," NBA vice president Stu Jackson told Associated Press about Sloan's suspension. "The level of the suspension is in line with the behavior."
The NBA on Wednesday also suspended Indiana Pacer swingman Ron Artest for four games for, among other things, confronting and making physical contact with Miami Heat Coach Pat Riley, taunting the Heat bench and directing an obscene gesture toward fans Monday at Miami.
Rasheed Wallace, a Portland Trail Blazer forward, was suspended Jan. 18 for seven games for confronting and threatening a referee on an arena loading dock following a Jan. 15 game.
These incidents should not be viewed as a trend, according to Ed Rush, the league's supervisor of officials. Barry Mano, president of the National Assn. of Sports Officials, seconded Rush's viewpoint, pointing out that confrontations between coaches, players and officials is of much greater concern at the youth level.
"Obviously, these are things we have to do deal with," Rush said. "It's not something we like. The incidents [involving Sloan and Wallace] stand alone. They are not a trend. I've been in professional basketball for more than 35 years and the incident in Portland is something I've never heard of before. Last night, was something in the heat of battle.
"I don't see a trend."
Mano related a recent incident in his hometown of Milwaukee in which a high school principal tried to force her way into the officials' locker room after a hotly contested game.
"Sure, it's a concern always," said Mano when asked specifically about the incidents involving Sloan and Wallace. "The way the NBA responds to these things shows it's very concerned. But it happens at high school games. One of my guys ejected a coach the other night. The principal came barging into the dressing room after the game and berated the officials. You're describing something that's not just happening in the NBA. It's happening at all levels ... it's outrageous."
In this latest incident, Sloan became upset because he believed referee Courtney Kirkland missed an out-of-bounds call against Sacramento's Doug Christie. Sloan leaped to his feet, according to reporters covering the game at Arco Arena, and Kirkland and the 60-year-old Utah coach, a former NBA player, began to argue while standing almost nose-to-nose.
Sloan extended his left arm, making contact with Kirkland's chest. Kirkland ejected Sloan, who continued to yell at the three-man officiating crew.
"I thought he was going to get 10 games," Clipper Coach Alvin Gentry said Wednesday. "It was strange. But I think these are isolated incidents. I don't think anything is going on. It happened to a guy [Sloan] who lost it for a moment. I don't think there's a trend. There's pressure to win in this league and to win right now."
Recalling Riley's assertion earlier this season that the league's officials, and Steve Javie, in particular, were pleased to see the Heat struggling and determined to keep them down, Gentry added:
"Everybody remembers Pat Riley's deal and Jerry Sloan's deal. The one thing about NBA referees is they know when you're upset at your team and when you're upset at them. They know. They're great in those situations. It's all part of the emotion of competing. Everybody has had emotions that have gotten the better of them in certain situations."
By any measure, Clipper power forward Elton Brand would be considered one of the league's most mild-mannered players. Artest, a childhood friend from New York, is considered one of its most volatile.
"He's just an intense guy," Brand said of Artest, also a former teammate with the Bulls. "He respects everyone but doesn't always show it.... It's not an act."
Brand then recalled a time while playing for the Bulls when he lost his cool after a difficult game against the Orlando Magic. "I got kicked out of a game. I was talking a little too much. I told the guy [an official no longer in the NBA] if he's not going to call it right, then he might as well kick me out."
Mano, the head of the officials association, had this to add, "We are in the eye of the storm just because of what we do in life. It's not pleasant. But I think, by and large, things are pretty good on the floor, field and diamond on the pro level."