Apr 26, 2014; Atlanta, GA, USA; Indiana Pacers guard C.J. Watson (32) and guard George Hill (3) and forward David West (21) and forward Luis Scola (4) and forward Paul George (24) argue with NBA official Scott Foster (48) against the Atlanta Hawks in the fourth quarter in game four of the first round of the 2014 NBA Playoffs at Philips Arena. The Pacers defeated the Hawks 91-88. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

The fallout of Robert Horry’s hip-check on Steve Nash

Some things aren’t easily forgotten.

When Robert Horry hockey-checked Phoenix Suns point guard Steve Nash into the scorer’s table in Game 4 of the Spurs-Suns 2007 playoff series, it became the microcosmic event for Suns fans and their hate for San Antonio. Boris Diaw and Amare Stoudemire were suspended for leaving the bench area, running to Nash’s side.

The NBA hit them each with a one-game suspension, the Suns lost the series after slipping in Game 5. Another scar was added to the Suns’ postseason past that was finally washed away — to a degree — in 2010.

The NBA’s by-the-book reaction came from Rule No. 12, Section VII, Subsection C. of the NBA’s rule book: “During an altercation, all players not participating in the game must remain in the immediate vicinity of their bench. Violators will be suspended, without pay, for a minimum of one game and fined up to $50,000. The suspension will commence prior to the start of their next game.”

So on Thursday, when Indiana Pacers forward Paul George left the bench with teammate Rasual Butler as an altercation broke out between Atlanta Hawks forward Mike Scott and Pacers teammate George Hill, everyone quickly pointed to 2007. George was facing the same poorly written rule.

Then again, he wasn’t facing the same decision-makers who would interpret that rule.

Former NBA executive VP Stu Jackson, who oversaw the Suns’ suspensions way back when, went to Twitter to explain his interpretation of the rule. He used the word “vicinity” in the rulebook to give George a pass — indeed he only stepped a foot off the bench — while assuming Butler would earn a suspension.

Ultimately, neither player was punished for Saturday’s Game 7.

Of course, it seems ironic — in a disappointing way for the Suns — that Stoudemire and Diaw were punished by a letter-of-the-law bit in the rulebook that’s ironically not written very letter-of-the-law-like. Although they did leave the bench’s vicinity, if we’re using that word loosely, it’s also a matter of the context. Was there an altercation in 2007 like there was between Scott and Hill this past Thursday?

ESPN Insider’s Amin Elhassan was a basketball operations intern in 2007, and he surely remembers how painful the suspension was. The Suns viewed it as a hypocritical decision considering the team submitted a claim that Tim Duncan and Bruce Bowen had also left the bench in an earlier altercation, which was deemed not to be so. Francisco Elson had fouled Suns swingman James Jones so hard that the Spurs players jumped up, as if they thought there would be a reaction — Jones simply got up without incident.

So then we can get into whether Steve Nash (and Raja Bell) were actually in an altercation with Horry.

The Indiana-Atlanta was different in many ways, but the reason it quickly became tied to the Suns’ seemingly mild bench-clearing incident of 2007 was pretty obvious. People feared the NBA would react in the same way by suspending the Pacers’ best player, and they knew it would be the wrong move.

  • Milich Kosanovich

    So the way I read your post, you are saying Stu Jackson indeed screwed the Suns in ’07. You forgot to include David Stern’s rationalization in upholding Stu Jackson’s suspensions. The sole purpose of issuing suspensions is to prevent an all-out brawl between teams.

    Stu Jackson is now using the “immediate vicinity” of the bench area to justify the league in not suspending Paul George. Back in ’07 the Suns complained that Duncan and Bowen had left the “immediate vicinity” of the bench area but were rebuked with the rationalization that James Jones didn’t escalate the incident into an altercation so that made it alright. The problem with that logic is the Spurs Franciso Elson initiated the excessive contact and his teammates came running onto the court to aid him.

    One can also argue that there wasn’t an altercation between Nash and Horry. As you recall it was Raja Bell who got “T’d” up for getting into Horry’s face, not Nash.

    Stu Jackson claims that Amare and Diaw had left their seats on the bench 20′-25′ to go to Nash’s aid. Well that is because Nash was laid out on the floor 20′-25″ from where they were seated. Mike Scott was already separated from George Hill who was restrained under the basket where the altercation began. As Scott walked away from Hill and towards the Pacer’s bench Paul George jumped up in the same aggressive manner that Amare and Diaw had and he stepped onto the court where he was within five feet of Scott before a Pacer assistant coach pushed him back to the bench.

    So to summarize, if an altercation happens in front of your bench and you leave your seat in an aggressive manner, you get a free pass because the altercation happened within the “vicinity of your bench”.

    Or you can admit that Stu Jackson and David Stern screwed the Suns in ’07.

    • http://www.valleyofthesuns.com Kevin Zimmerman

      I’d go short of saying he screwed the Suns. It was harsh, maybe unfair, but there’s a reason for such a rule. The reasoning of the rule existing — keeping players from clearing benches — is clear but it’s been poorly enforced. As in, there’s no consistency. If the NBA wants to be strict, then Duncan and Bowen should have been suspended, and arguably, one or both of George and Butler should’ve been. In this case, the Suns got the bad deal when others didn’t…it’s unfair because they were singled out, but it’d be more understandable if the rule was more clear. It’s not.

  • Salvador Dali

    I’ll go with “Stu Jackson and David Stern screwed the Suns in 07″. When I saw what happened in the Pacers/Hawks game my mind immediately flashed back to 07 and the vision of “Cheap Shoot Rob” clocking Nash. Rules are rules. If they are open to interpretation then they aren’t rules, they are “guidelines”. The 07 Suns were hit with the strictest “interpretation” of the rules. The Pacers weren’t. That just sucks.

  • gairman

    Bottom line, you can’t let a border line decision that leaned to the harsh side decide the outcome of a playoff series which it did.