With the rise of social media, and Twitter specifically, professional athletes are getting caught; no longer can they brush off questionable plays as accidents. The most recent example of this happened the other night when the Oklahoma City Thunder played the Golden State Warriors in Oakland, in one of the newest and most heated rivalries in the NBA today. For those of you who aren’t too well versed in the NBA, I’ll take a moment to explain the situation.
The play in question happened in the third quarter of the game, in which the Warriors were already winning by a decent amount. Russell Westbrook (the best player on the Thunder and one of the best players in the league) went for a layup, and got hit in mid air. At the end of the play, Zaza Pachulia (the 7-foot center for the Warriors and a historically dirty player) fell directly on Westbrook’s leg. We have no way of knowing if the play was intended to hurt Westbrook or not, but it sure seems like it was. Pachulia was not hit on the play and did not trip over anyone from what we could tell from the replays. It looked like he looked down, spotted Westbrook on the ground, picked a spot to land, and fell.
Immediately, Twitter exploded. People all over the country watching the game were calling for him to be suspended for yet another dirty play intended to injure the star played on the opposing team. One Twitter user even put together a thread highlighting nine other plays or instances where Pachulia seemed to try to purposefully injure an opposing player. Paul George (teammate and fellow All-Star) said after the game, “I’m gonna take the Russ approach to this. Did you see it? You know Zaza, you know his history, and you know nobody pushed him. He aimed where he was going to fall. That’s Zaza making a Zaza play. He’s on the end of hurting a lot of guys.” Even Kyrie Irving (an All-Star on a different team and one of the best players in the league) was calling for the league to look into the play and make the right call on an intentionally dirty play. He was active on an Instagram post that showed what happened, saying, “The league has to take a look at this man, this s— is ridiculous!!”
In a season where a disproportionate amount of star players have had season ending injuries before even the midway point, the league needs to crack down when it can. Whereas most of the major injuries have been (unfortunately) non-contact injuries, there needs to be a system put into place to protect the health and safety of players from cheap plays and intentional injuries such as the play with Westbrook and Pachulia last night. The replay system has been continuously evolving and improving over the past years, and it is now time for league officials to crack down.
Unfortunately, this is not the first time that the Golden State Warriors have been involved in a string of dirty plays by one player. During the 2016-2017 season, Warriors All-Star Draymond Green was seen to kick players on the other team seven (7) times. The first couple times, there were some people calling for discipline, while the vast majority was a bit more lenient because in almost all of the instances happened during a play with contact, where it would not be crazy to think that maybe the play was an accident. But by the fourth, fifth, sixth, and seventh times, people were beginning to catch on. Players began to take to Twitter to voice concerns over the actions of Green. Videos would circulate, zooming in and using slow motion features, and everyone on Twitter could see exactly what happened.
Twitter has become an evening ground for athletes in this situation, especially for NBA athletes because of the high level of involvement in Twitter that the NBA has. Green can argue that his kicks aren’t intentional. Pachulia can say, “No comment. That’s childish. Come on. I’m not responding to that.” But it all comes out in the wash when everyone sees every slow motion reply from every angle. There’s no hiding dirty play any more, thankfully. Twitter has become the courthouse of the NBA: the innumerable jurors are the users, the defendant is the player who committed the dirty play, the plaintiff is the player on the receiving end of the dirty play, the countless pieces of evidence are the replays, and the judge is the league office. The evidence has been supplied, and now it is up to the league office to make sure that this intentionally dirty play does not go unpunished.