- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 28, 2009

Players are collecting technical fouls in these NBA playoffs the way they used to collect tattoos - or bling. The “T” seems to be the latest affectation, the latest vanity item… like the headband or the compression sock.

Dwight Howard got his sixth tech of the postseason Tuesday night for taunting the Cavaliers’ Anderson Varejao. Fortunately for Howard, the “T” was rescinded by the league Upon Further Review. Otherwise, he’d be perilously close to a one-game suspension.

The same thing happened to Kobe Bryant. He’s also been “T-ed” up half a dozen times in the playoffs, but No. 5 was later dismissed for lack of evidence.

Yes, in the NBA, some technical fouls are here today and gone tomorrow. Heck, the Nuggets’ Kenyon Martin has had three “Ts” wiped out during the postseason, which is the only reason he isn’t in more dire straits than the other two. One was stricken from the books, believe it or not, when it was upgraded to a flagrant foul, which carries a $25,000 fine.

Upgraded. In the real world, “upgraded” usually means something good - a better seat on an airplane, perhaps, or a hotel room that overlooks the ocean instead of the parking lot. But in professional hoops, it means Something Worse Than Previously Realized, the changing of a misdemeanor to a felony. I love this game!

Anyway, wouldn’t it be swell if Howard’s Magic and Bryant’s Lakers reached the finals and the two stars wound up sitting out a game because they’d been assessed seven technicals? It’s entirely possible, too, given how determinedly they’ve been piling them up. Dwight, in fact, has already been suspended once, in the first round, for elbowing the Sixers’ Samuel Dalembert. Can you imagine Michael Jordan or Larry Bird or Julius Erving DQ-ing himself for a playoff game because he couldn’t keep his emotions in check?

Of course, that’s why the NBA put these rules in place a few seasons ago - to try to curb such behavior, which was clearly on the rise. (By “such behavior,” I mean unsportsmanlike acts, grade-school theatrics and the general browbeating of officials.)

You can’t help but be amused by the guidelines the league laid down, such as: “Cursing or blaspheming an official shall not be considered the only cause for imposing technical fouls. Running tirades, continuous criticism or griping may be sufficient cause to assess a technical.”

The NBA - the National Blaspheming Association.

I mean, just think: In a generation, we’ve gone from running one-handers to running tirades.

The new “T” rules have had the desired effect, though. Now that the line has been drawn - and players know that their 16th regular-season technical (and their seventh in the playoffs) will result in a one-game unpaid vacation - they’re less apt to cross it.

Nobody exceeded the limit last season. This season, only Rasheed Wallace and Stephen Jackson did - and frequent offender Rasheed, for whom the rules were named, has cut back from his all-time high of 41 technicals in 2000-01 to an almost courtly 19 this season (two of which were later overturned).

But in the playoffs it’s been another story. Why, even Hedo Turkoglu (four) and Luke Walton (three) have joined the “T” party. Who’s next, Magic assistant Patrick Ewing?

(On second thought, scratch that. Ewing got “T-ed” up the other night for voicing an opinion from the Orlando bench.)

As for Howard and Bryant, you’ve gotta hand it to them. They know all the tricks for drawing a technical, whether it’s whining to the refs, slamming the ball to the floor, trash-talking an opponent or dropping the ball on him after scoring.

Normally, it takes years of practice to develop a repertoire like that, Dwight has done it before turning 24. By the time he’s Kobe’s age, there’s no telling what he’ll have added to his arsenal. Maybe he’ll be cussing out the officials in Latin.

The players will tell you the “T’s” are just a byproduct of the heightened playoff atmosphere. As Bryant puts it, “It’s just good competitive basketball. [The opponent isn’t] going to back down. He knows I’m not going to back down. It’s what makes playoff basketball. Period.”

Either that or they’ll say it’s the only way they know how to play - with passion - which raises all kinds of questions. Such as: What about the other guys, the guys who haven’t gotten hit with six technicals? Are they NOT playing with passion? Or is it just that they don’t find passion and composure to be mutually exclusive?

Miraculously, the Magic won the night Howard was suspended, sparing them a seventh game against the 76ers. The next time, though, they might not be so lucky. Dwight appears to understand this.

“I might have to get some duct tape,” he says.

And if that doesn’t work, well, he could always go the “Silence of the Lambs” route - and have the trainer package him up like Hannibal Lecter.


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