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Commentary: Proximity of fans and team benches to NBA courts is a problem, but one with an easy fix

Will the league resolve this issue? It could if it wanted

SHARE Commentary: Proximity of fans and team benches to NBA courts is a problem, but one with an easy fix

Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, left, watches from the bench during Game 3 of Western Conference finals contest against Golden State, Sunday, May 22, 2022, in Dallas.

Tony Gutierrez, Associated Press

On Sunday the Dallas Mavericks were fined $100,000 for violating team bench rules during a playoff game. When the league fines a player or team a press release regarding the fine is sent out to NBA reporters. But this was the third email from the league office that I’ve received in the last three weeks referencing the Mavericks.

“The Dallas Mavericks organization has been fined $100,000 for continuing to violate league rules regarding team bench decorum,” the release read. “On multiple occasions, several players and a member of the coaching staff stood for an extended period in the Mavericks’ team bench area, stood away from the team bench, and were on or encroaching upon the playing court during game action.”

The Mavericks were fined $25,000 on May 6 for the same violation and then fined $50,000 on May 18 for the same thing.

I was a little surprised that the league was actually enforcing a rule regarding bench decorum because this is something that happens throughout the regular season, every year, without penalty.

On Dec. 8, 2021, I actually brought this up in postgame interview with Utah Jazz players when I noticed that the Minnesota Timberwolves were standing right up against the border of the court and sometimes on it during a game. This is not unique to the Mavericks.

So how do you prevent stuff like this from happening? That’s supposed to be what the fines are for. But that doesn’t seem to be a deterrent.

According to an NBA spokesperson when asked who is paying the Mavericks fines, “in this case the money comes from the organization, not the players.” So the players aren’t impacted and their behavior isn’t changing and there doesn’t seem to have been any sort of edict from billionaire owner Mark Cuban telling his players to stay away from the court when they aren’t in the game.

Even if the money was coming from the players, fines do not bother NBA players. In a 2021 article by The Athleltic’s Joe Vardon, which detailed how NBA fine money is used, Draymond Green made it clear that fines were not going to keep him from breaking rules.

“I’ve been fined so many times, it doesn’t bother me one bit at this point,” said Green, whose fines the past two seasons were equal to about eight-tenths of one percent of his $25 million average annual salary.

“Each tech he draws comes with a $2,000 fine,” Vardon wrote. “Factoring in his other infractions, from verbal blasts toward refs and even a tampering charge, Green was fined $200,000 over the previous two years by the league’s front office.

Vardon went on to detail where fine money from NBA teams, players and owners goes. In short, it is divided between the NBA and the NBPA and then given to various charities. That’s certainly a good use of the money that the league gets from technical fouls, suspensions, flagrant fouls and other violations. But the Mavericks recent fines got me thinking more about the area around the court.

Players on the bench should not be able to breathe on the neck of a player in the game. That kind of proximity is just not necessary. Along those lines, we should be protecting players and spectators from injury around the border of the court. Fans, baseline photographers, scorekeepers and inactive players are all so close to the court that they are at risk of being landed on, kicked in the face or causing injury by being in the landing space of players.

And of course we can’t forget about the barf game in Sacramento this season, when a fan stalled a game after vomiting on the court. Drinks are spilled, fans throw objects onto the court, and basketball players become impromptu competitive hurdlers as they try to navigate the courtside seating.

When fans were not allowed in NBA arenas at the beginning of the pandemic, and then when they started to allow limited fans into arenas, there were stricter policies about proximity to the court that kept some of these things from happening, so we know it’s possible.

And it would be very easy for the NBA to restrict bench players to a certain area near the bench. The problem comes down to money.

NBA teams are not going to move back court-side fans because they don’t want to give up the revenue for those high-priced seats. Eliminating front-row seats in order to give the players a dedicated bench standing section would also cut revenue, so that’s also not going to happen.

Should fans be able to spill their drinks and vomit on the court? No. Should players be at risk of injury because of the fans’ proximity to the court? No. Should inactive players be able to stand on the court or be so close that they can see every pore on the face of a player in the game? No. Can the NBA and the NBA owners make the changes necessary to prevent these things? Yes. Will they? No.

Sarah Todd is the Utah Jazz beat writer for the Deseret News.


Dallas Mavericks players watch from the bench as guard Luka Doncic shoots a free throw during Game 1 of Western Conference finals against the Golden State Warriors in San Francisco, Wednesday, May 18, 2022.

Jeff Chiu, Associated Press