The league is in the process of looking into Sunday’s incident involving Serge Ibaka, a league spokesman said, and impending punishment for the Thunder forward could include a suspension for his hit on Los Angeles Clippers forward Blake Griffin.
The incident occurred with 1:52 remaining in the Thunder’s 108-104 win. Ibaka swung his arm down to Griffin’s body and ended up striking Griffin in the groin region. After video review, game officials ruled the act a Flagrant Foul 1, which is defined as “unnecessary contact committed by a player against an opponent.”
Ibaka was allowed to stay in the game because the play wasn’t ruled a Flagrant Foul 2, which is defined as “unnecessary and excessive contact committed by a player against an opponent” and an “unsportsmanlike act.”
Violators of these rules are subject to a fine of up to $50,000 and/or a suspension by NBA commissioner David Stern.
All flagrant fouls are reviewed by the league office, and an announcement of Ibaka’s penalties could come Monday afternoon.
A few things could determine whether Ibaka will miss the Thunder’s next game, which is Tuesday night against the Los Angeles Lakers.
When the league suspended Metta World Peace last April for his elbow to the head of former Thunder guard James Harden, Stern said previous penalties, who’s involved in the altercation, the seriousness of the injury and “whatever else is in the atmosphere” all factored into his decision. Stern also said the league levies “appropriate penalties for players with a history of on-court altercations.”
Ibaka has no real history of unsportsmanlike conduct beyond tempers flaring in typical competitiveness. From that standpoint, a suspension seems like it would be severe and not in line with past punishments for repeat offenders.
Additionally, handing down a suspension would put the NBA in a potentially uncomfortable position on two fronts: the league office in essence would be saying its officials botched the call by not ejecting Ibaka, while a suspension now could bring up a matter of fairness with regard to competitive balance. Ibaka went on to provide two pivotal plays in the final two minutes — a three-point play on one end and a blocked shot at the other — to help the Thunder defeat the Clippers and keep them from overtaking OKC as the 2-seed. If Ibaka must now sit out the next game, it could help the Lakers make the playoffs.
A more likely, and perhaps more appropriate, penalty might be a fine. Though the league could take as much as $50,000 from Ibaka, fines ranging from $15,000 to $25,000 seem to be the standard for incidents such as Ibaka’s on Sunday. Chicago center Joakim Noah, for instance, was hit with a $50,000 fine in May 2011 when he directed a gay slur toward a fan while seated on the bench during a playoff game. Nobody but Griffin can argue that what Ibaka did was as despicable as Noah’s offense.
Ibaka’s fate, however, is now in the league’s hands.
We’ll soon learn what, if anything, the verdict brings.