During last night’s Game 3 between the Chicago Bulls and the Miami Heat, Bulls forward Joakim Noah directed a homophobic slur at one of the fans inside the American Airlines Arena. The slur was the same one used by Lakers star Kobe Bryant about a month ago.
For the incident Kobe Bryant was fined $100,000, and the league said that such behavior was completely unacceptable. However, the news was released today that Noah would receive only a $50,000 fine after committing the same offense. This immediately began a controversy as people analyzed the league’s decisions.
Many feel that Noah’s fine should mirror Bryant’s since the offense was practically the same. The league’s remarks on the situation were that Bryant was fined more because his remarks were directed at an official. That argument seems strange when you consider the fact that Noah’s were directed at a paying customer. If this is the league’s reasoning behind the fine people will declare that the league cares more about protecting their own employees than their customers, which is not going to be good for public relations.
Another argument that seems more relevant to me is the proportions of the fines based on each player’s salary. Bryant made $24 million this past season while Noah brought home only $3 million. In terms of percentages, Noah did have a more damaging fine than Bryant. However, the problem with this argument is that the league didn’t state it as a reason for the decreased fine. They only mentioned the intent of the slurs as their reasoning behind the decision.
There are several reasons that seem plausible as to why the league would not fine Noah as much as Bryant. The salary issue is one, but Bryant is also a much bigger star than Noah, and therefore a more direct example of the NBA’s public image. Bryant is a global icon, and is still the face of the league to many people around the world. The league may have felt the need to make an example out of Bryant so that their most popular figures would know not to commit such mindless infractions.
While those reasons may all make sense to me, it is still puzzling that the league didn’t state them as factors in their decision. If the league based their decision purely on the fact that Bryant’s was directed at an official while Noah’s was directed at a fan, they got it wrong. If they would have stated that the other extenuating factors came into play when handing out Noah’s fine then I believe the decision would have been justified.
Regardless, the league’s decision is going to raise eyebrows around the league. Players already have stated their displeasure with the league’s punishments on the court as they struggled to come to terms with the bizarre technical foul rules that were implemented this season. By not clearly stating their reasoning while fining players different amounts for the same offense, the NBA has created more questions than answers. This time, the league got it wrong.
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