When I was six years old, I played in a YMCA basketball league that allowed all methods of moving the ball up and down the court. We could run with the ball, stop and start dribbles whenever we wanted, and play by the regular rules. Being a big sports fan even at that young age, I knew the real rules of basketball and dribbled whenever I could. But no one was penalized for turning basketball into a children’s version of street rollerball. Playing by the rules of the game, or not, depended on our growing senses of pride and shame.
On Wednesday night, Toronto Raptors big man Amir Johnson tapped into that same approach to the laws of basketball. Around the six-minute mark of the first quarter of Toronto’s home game against the Portland Trail Blazers, Johnson fielded a pass near the top of the key and took a single dribble to his right. After a brief pause, he pump-faked a jumper, which defender J.J. Hickson challenged aggressively because Johnson could not blow by him on a drive.
Except that’s exactly what Johnson did. Flouting all established rules of the game, he dribbled again and created enough space to make a short jump hook over Hickson. On his way back down the court, Johnson laughed, because this entire play was ridiculous and never should have happened.
I don’t know what officials Bennett Salvatore, Scott Wall, and Eric Dalen were doing on this play, but it stands to reason that they either stopped paying attention entirely or simply wanted to congratulate Johnson on his willingness to take risks. At any rate, it’s hard to imagine a goofier missed call, if only because these are rules that most basketball players learn right around the time they realize that there are different positions on the court.
It’s difficult to say this basket changed the game, because the Raptors dominated the Blazers in a 102-79 victory. Nevertheless, the implications of the play could be widespread. If more plays like this one happen, it’s not impossible to imagine the very foundations of the game cracking. Basketball would then turn into a rule-free zone in which only a player’s personal honor could maintain a suitable level of sportsmanship. That situation could be good news for some athletes — I’m looking at you, Reggie Evans — but bad news for fans.
Please, referees: call double-dribbles. I am no longer a small child and will not understand basketball without them.
For a different and much homier take, check out Raptors broadcaster Matt Devlin completely ignoring the infraction in order to talk up Amir’s most recent haircut:
(Original video via The Point Forward)