The NBA has its version of what happened, and Rasheed Wallace has his, and the truth is probably somewhere in the middle. But something happened between Wallace and referee Tim Donaghy at the loading dock at the Rose Garden on Jan. 15 after the Portland Trail Blazers played the Memphis Grizzlies, and it led to Wallace being suspended by the NBA for seven games, his past most certainly part of his present.
Here's what we know, and it starts in the third quarter of Portland's win over Memphis, when official Scott Wall called a foul on Wallace with 9:45 left in the period. Wallace then tossed the ball toward Wall, who had his back turned. But Donaghy saw it, thought Wallace was throwing the ball at Wall and gave Wallace a technical foul. Wallace was angry -- "Ask him (Wall) if he thought I was throwing the ball at him!" Wallace allegedly said to Donaghy after the technical was called -- but stayed in the game and finished with a season-best 38 points, with 10 boards.
Then, about an hour after the game, Wallace was speaking with Memphis guard Brevin Knight and signing autographs for an acquaintance of Knight's when Wall, Donaghy and Steve Javie, the third ref, came walking past on the way to their car.
|For the most part, Rasheed Wallace, right, has stayed out of trouble this season.|
According to a source, Wallace shouted at Donaghy, "That was a bull---- call and technical, and I'm gonna get my money back," referring to the fine players receive for getting T'd up.
Donaghy then, according to the source, shouted back, "Watch the tape."
At this point, things get a little murky. Wallace then apparently took some steps toward Donaghy, and, a source says, said, "No, you watch the tape," and cursed at Donaghy. What is also unclear -- and very important, obviously -- is whether Donaghy cursed back at Wallace, or merely repeated what he'd already said, or didn't say anything. No one I spoke with disputes, though, that Wallace reacted by raising his arms -- as if to throw a punch, the league believes; with no malice toward Donaghy intended or planned, Wallace's people believe -- and moving toward Donaghy, who moved toward Wallace. Another source contends that Wallace then yelled at Donaghy, "I'm gonna kick your ass, punk-ass mother-----," and that the league viewed this as prima facie evidence of a threat against the official -- the major reason for the seven-game suspension.
The two were separated, and the referees then went to their awaiting car.
While Wallace's supporters maintain the league's investigation was rushed, the league says its reconstruction of the incident was exhaustive. The number of witnesses interviewed is believed to exceed double figures. And it is clear that Wallace's past runs-in with referees played a part in the severity of the suspension, even though he has greatly reduced the number of technicals he's received in the last two years, from 41 in 2000-01 to 27 last season to just five through his first 37 games this season. Like its decision in the Latrell Sprewell choking incident, the league also viewed the fact that time passed between the initial on-court confrontation between Wallace and Donaghy and the second confrontation as being more damaging, because Wallace had time to cool off.
But Wallace's supporters counter that this is different from Sprewell, or Marcus Camby's postgame incident with the Spurs a couple of years ago, because Wallace wasn't looking for Donaghy after the game, or lying in wait; he was talking with Knight when Donaghy and the other refs happened to walk by. In other words, there was no premeditation on Wallace's part to cause a confrontation.
And why did Golden State's Chris Mills, by way of comparison, only receive three games for trying to block the Blazers' team bus with his car after a brawl between the two teams at the end of their game Dec. 20? The same standards seem to apply. I guess the league viewed that differently because there was no actual physical contact between Mills and the Blazers' players, who were on the bus. And, I guess, because a policeman on the scene talked Mills back into his car after he got out of it and started toward the bus. (I still believe, though, that Mills' conduct was much more threatening than Wallace's -- especially considering the fact that there was a civilian in Mills' car. What would have happened if the other guy had managed to get near a Portland player? Or if Mills' car had hit the bus, with injuries resulting?)
Wallace will file an appeal of the suspension -- which also will cost him more than a million dollars in lost salary -- through the Players' Association, possibly as early as Monday. But whatever the outcome, each side has dug in. The Blazers believe this is more evidence that the league is out to get them. The league seems to believe that Portland's brought all of this upon itself with its behavior over the years. And the truth is probably somewhere in the middle.
Around the LeagueGrant Hill spent Wednesday in New York and Thursday at Duke University seeing doctors in an increasingly desperate hope to find out what's causing the pain in his foot. The surgical repair is fine, but the Magic now want to know what caused the original stress fracture -- and why Hill can't run and jump without hurting. Orlando is hoping Hill will only miss four to six weeks, but no one really knows how long he's going to be out. Meanwhile, the Magic continue to struggle to score and defend -- problems that would have been alleviated somewhat if Orlando had kept free agents Troy Hudson and Monty Williams. But the team expected Hill to be there to provide offensive and defensive support for Tracy McGrady.
Here's who I'd have as All-Star backups. East: Jason Kidd, Paul Pierce, Antoine Walker, Jamal Mashburn, Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Michael Jordan and Jerry Stackhouse, who's averaging more points and more rebounds than MJ. That leaves Jalen Rose and Ron Artest on the outside looking in.
And here's hoping the Eastern Conference coaches do the right thing and put Mashburn on the east squad. "It would mean a lot to me," Mashburn says. "This is what your peers think of you." The Monster Mash may be having his best pro season, leading the Hornets in scoring and minutes played, and he's second in boards and assists. It would be Mashburn's first All-Star appearance, after, he says, patiently waiting his turn, and he hopes it would answer once and for all any questions anyone still has about the vertigo that kept him out of the playoffs last spring. "I've been telling everyone that I feel fine," he says. "I was a question mark to a lot of people who didn't know about my health. To bounce back and be an All-Star would answer those questions." But Mash isn't sure he's going to make it: "I understand how the league is. It would be great for me, but I understand how the league works ... it's balloting, marketing, different things they have to do. I don't have a lot of votes (he was 10th among East forwards). A few years ago, when the game was in New York, Penny Hardaway (then riding the crest of the Lil' Penny wave) was the leading vote getter and he didn't play most of the season. It's a business. It's a marketing tool."
My West reserves: Michael Finley, Dirk Nowitzki, Karl Malone, Chris Webber, Stephon Marbury, Gary Payton and Shaquille O'Neal. We ask that those who make mistakes do their penance, admit their wrongdoing and try to do better in the future. Starchild succeeds on all these fronts, and he's been the unquestioned leader of Phoenix's unexpected revival. That's why I have him on the squad instead of Steve Nash and Mike Bibby, who would have made the team if he hadn't missed the first month following surgery.
Expect Golden State's second-round pick Steve Logan to finally surface in the NBDL with the Mobile Revelers. Logan and the Warriors couldn't agree on a number (taken first in the second round but 29th overall because Minnesota didn't have a first, Logan looked for first-round money for a while), and a foot injury kept him shelved most of the summer. He went back to Cincinnati and worked out with the Bearcats for a few weeks to stay in shape, and now his foot is better. But the Warriors are set at the point with Gilbert Arenas and Earl Boykins. Golden State keeps his rights while he's in the D League, though, and is the only team that could call him up.
Please don't believe 97 percent of the trade rumors you hear about Wally Szczerbiak. Folks neglect to tell you that Wally World now has a "poison pill" contract by virtue of signing that $63 million extension before training camp. Because the first year of his extension will exceed the 12.5 percent maximum raise allowable from the $2.9 million Szczerbiak makes this season, for cap purposes his contract is averaged out through the life of the deal. What that means in English is that his cap number is much higher than his actual salary -- while Minnesota could only receive a player back in a trade for Wally who makes his actual salary. Which means he is next to impossible to move. The same is true for all the other players from the '99 draft class who signed extensions last summer, including Steve Francis, Baron Davis and Shawn Marion.
Ex-Sixers, Wizards and Nets general manager John Nash is now working with the Philadelphia Phillies, helping them make their move from Veterans Stadium to their new facility in 2004. Still don't understand why he and Wayne Embry aren't running someone's front office. Are teams afraid of GMs who've succeeded everywhere they've been?
The Sixers are in no hurry to make a decision on Stanley Roberts, now that he's been reinstated by the league. They have 30 days from the reinstatement date (Jan. 16) to sign Roberts -- they have his rights -- or put him on waivers. But Roberts is apparently quite out of shape, and Philly wants to have a face-to-face with him to see if he really wants to play again.
David Aldridge, who covers the NBA for ESPN, is a regular contributor to ESPN.com.