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Stephen A. Smith | Suspension of Suns not a bright move

The world has plenty of brilliant and accomplished corporations that do idiotic things from time to time. Evidently, the National Basketball Association is one of them.

The world has plenty of brilliant and accomplished corporations that do idiotic things from time to time. Evidently, the National Basketball Association is one of them.

The NBA did yesterday what some would say it has done best over the last two years: It handed down suspensions as if they were going out of style.

The league suspended San Antonio Spurs forward Robert Horry for two games after a flagrant foul against Phoenix point guard Steve Nash in Game 4 of their playoff series. Then Horry struck Raja Bell above the shoulders with a forearm.

The NBA also suspended Amare Stoudemire and Boris Diaw of the Suns for leaving "the immediate vicinity of their bench." Both will miss Game 5 of the best-of-seven Western Conference semifinal series tonight. Horry will be exiled from Games 5 and 6 without pay.

In the process of suspending those three, the league that supposedly cares so much about focusing attention on the game and the instinctual greatness of its players has us focused on something entirely different.

Yet again.

This wasn't Ron Artest jumping into the stands at the Palace in Auburn Hills in 2004. Nor was it Carmelo Anthony igniting a brawl this season in Madison Square Garden, just a few blocks from the NBA offices.

This was the Spurs vs. the Suns, the Nos 2 and No. 3 seeds out West, respectively, putting on the kind of show the NBA has craved for years. It is a show filled with excitement, intrigue, tenacity, and, dare we say, some physical play.

Now it's potentially ruined. And for what, exactly?

It's one thing to suspend Horry, who hip-checked Nash, whose flop into the scorer's table could have given Al Pacino a run for his money. It is quite another thing to suspend Stoudemire and Diaw.

The NBA, no doubt, will attach itself to "the letter of the law," as commissioner David Stern has so eloquently stated in years past. The league will point to the precedent-setting decision in 1997 - 10 years to the day yesterday - when it suspended five members of the New York Knicks (Patrick Ewing, Allan Houston, Larry Johnson, Charlie Ward and John Starks) and Miami's P.J. Brown. That came after Brown sparked a near-brawl by flipping Ward upside down as if the Knicks guard was back playing quarterback at Florida State.

To be fair, league officials will say there is no way to determine what potential harm will occur by waiting to see what will happen if someone is allowed to evade the letter of the law by exceeding the vicinity of his bench, etc.

Forgive me, though. It just seems stupid.

The thing is, Ewing was suspended for stepping just a few feet off the bench - essentially, for not controlling his natural instincts expeditiously, if not immediately. In other words, he was suspended for the same reasons Stoudemire and Diaw were suspended a decade later: for not controlling their in-the-moment reaction in time to avoid exceeding the limits of a vicinity determined by Stern and enforced by Stu Jackson, the NBA's executive vice president of basketball operations.

"A precedent wasn't necessary," Jackson explained in a conference call yesterday. "The rule with respect to leaving the bench area during an altercation is very clear. The rule simply states that 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.

"If you look at it, both Diaw and Amare were 20 to 25 feet away from their seats in the bench area going towards the altercation. So in our minds, that is clearly away from the vicinity of their bench."

I don't care.

How good do you think the Suns' chances are of winning Game 5 without Stoudemire? Once the Spurs reclaim home-court advantage for Game 6, assuming they win Game 5, what if they win the series? Will the fans (and the networks) who have complained about player behavior genuinely applaud Stern's ruling? Or will they simply use it as an excuse to further sully the league's body of representatives because of the actions of a few? And how fair would that be?

It's clear the NBA is determined to run away from the style of physical play that helped the Detroit Pistons capture two world championships and made Pat Riley and the New York Knicks significant once again. Clearly, fans have told the league they want to see the brand of basketball that Phoenix, Dallas and now Golden State have employed. It's more interesting and fun.

They also told commissioner Stern one other thing: They want to see the players play. Intensity and all. Nobody wants to see them in street clothes.

If things are going to be like this, you might as well bring back suspended referee Joey Crawford.