So the NBA under David Stern is trying to remake its public image, trying to cut down on the thuggishruggishbone perception of the NBA, blah blah blah nothing new there. Some teams (or some coaches, rather) seem to be taking Stern’s directives a bit more seriously than others. Scott Skiles of the Chicago Bulls in particular. A little context first: Skiles is an excellent defensive coach, having coached the Bulls to the best team defense last year, and they’re certainly moving in a similar direction again this season. You would think that the Bulls’ biggest free-agent acquisition and four-time Defensive Player of the Year, Ben Wallace, would be all about Skiles’ style then. Funny what losing can do to a team.
Wallace has been a pretty unhappy camper with the Bulls and their 3-9 start (before last night’s victory over the, snicker, Knicks) and the rumors about Skiles and his starting center being at odds have already begun to circulate. So Wallace, never known for being all that reserved, took it upon himself to exercise some civil disobedience, streetball style. Skiles has this rule forbidding any player in a Bulls uni from wearing a headband. So when Wallace decided to openly defy Skiles’ said team ban one night after he played a season-low 20 minutes and recorded no points and no rebounds in a blowout loss to the 76ers, Wallace was pulled only 2 minutes and 2 seconds after tipoff. When Wallace removed the headband with about two and a half minutes left in the first quarter, Skiles promptly re-entered him into the game, and he played for nearly the rest of the half. When Wallace again slyly slipped the headband back on just before the start of the second half, Skiles again immediately benched him, with Skiles again reinserting him back into the lineup within a minute of the removal of the headband for a second time.
And this is where the Skiles-Stern connection comes in. See, David Stern last year decided to eliminate the brandishing of certain superfluous tights and other miscellaneous game equipment, but he has never issued any edicts against headbands. So maybe I’m reading too much into Skiles’ motives here, but how is one supposed to take such a ridiculous rule? Would Skiles have ever pushed for this kind of team rule, say, five years ago, before Stern took it upon himself to whiten up (excuse me, class up) the NBA? The Bulls have no bad reputation to shed like, say, the Portland Trailblazers, so that can’t be it. Some explanation, any explanation would be nice.
The Bulls’ starting point-guard, Kirk Hinrich, had this to say after the game: “We want to make sure everybody is on the same page. Hopefully we will be.” Listen, I’m all about team coordination. If a player on a team ever put on, say, their road jersey for a home game, well, that’s an NBA faux pas to say the least. If Ricky Davis ever decided to break out some yellow shoes to go along with the Wolves true blue-and-green, well let’s not even go there. But Wallace isn’t an idiot, and his red headband even matched the Bulls’ red-and-black home jerseys quite tastefully. Skiles contributed this valuable post-game input on whether he was worried about the growing rift between him and Wallace: “No, I don’t know why. I’m just not.” Something in me just doesn’t want to believe that crap.
Well here’s some commentary on the matter I can believe, the words spoken from Wallace himself: “Man, I don’t care about that. All I know is we got the win.” Wallace is a gamer, he made his point by wearing the headband AND his team still got the win. Of course, nobody knows now how any of this will play out. Maybe Ben Wallace will come out for the next game wearing, like, three headbands and some anklets, and a red-and-black protective facemask just for the hell of it (thank you very much, Rip Hamilton). Either way, I’m pretty certain the days of seeing Ben Wallace let it all hang out (as pictured below) are well over.
The NBA can be such a prude sometimes.