The Morality of Violence at the hands of the Joker

Updated: November 11, 2021

A blowout out in Denver ended with fines and a suspension of last year’s Most Valuable Player. Nikola Jokic pulled a board off the rim and rolled towards the center court logo in transition with 2:40 left in the 4th. With a 17-point lead, all the stars would presumably be taken off the floor at the next stoppage of play. Instead, an incident occurred that has dominated NBA Twitter and all the newscasts that follow the league. Just as Jokic went to pass the ball past half court, Markieff Morris came in full speed and ran his shoulder in the Joker’s side. Consumed by violent rage, Jokic charged Markieff and threw his shoulder and elbow into Morris’ spine throwing his body to the floor like a rag doll.

It’s hard to tell with flop culture in the NBA how much pain Morris was in, but if he was in half the agony his body depicted on the floor after the hit, the Joker had landed a knockout blow that would have week-long effects at the very least. Jokic is lucky English isn’t his first language, because the threats that were coming down from the lips of his 7-foot frame may have gotten him additional days sentenced to the sidelines. The focus of many of the narratives created since the confrontation has been centered around the fact that Markieff Morris’ back was turned, and that the Joker’s retaliation came in the form of a cheap shot. The obvious rebuttal has been that the initial hit itself was a cheap shot and an obvious flagrant foul with no play on the ball.

The sentiment was cemented into the conversation once it was echoed by Shaq and Charles on Inside the NBA, where they not only validated the Joker’s right to retaliate but that Morris should’ve never turned his back after the flagrant foul. This is where the event becomes interesting in the paradigm of violence in the NBA. Two 90’s Hall of Famers who dominated in the notoriously bruising era of basketball stated that physical retaliation would be an absolute necessity if a similar situation would’ve happened to them. And we have several clips of Barkley and O’Neal proving their claims. It was clear when they spoke about it that it was a fundamental belief to their ideology of the sport, that once they were disrespected with a cheap hit to their body, the entity that feeds them and their family, that the only suitable response was with violence.

Why this is so relevant to this particular season, is the underlying element in the rule changes on non-organic movement in foul drawing on the permitter has been the high level of physicality that has been permitted in the paint by officials. Outside of the number of 3-point attempts, this may be the biggest difference that most people point to when comparing eras, specifically the current “soft” modern style of basketball and the hard nose era of the late ’80s and early ’90s. Since the league has implemented these intentions quietly, in between the lines of text of their new emphasis, it is hard to know for sure, but it seems like an experiment to see how it impacts the product of the NBA that has come under extreme scrutiny the last few years. Well, the level of success really can’t even be quantified, because not only are numbers up, but everyone from pods, FS1, and ESPN all are in a unanimous agreement that the game is simply more enjoyable to watch. Most are in agreement that there are certain fouls not being called that probably should be, but there has not been one take in this young season of someone asking to go back to what it was last year.

Since the league has covertly adopted a more defensive-minded 90’s era style of basketball, is it possible that it can revisit the rules on taunting and retaliation? Everyone idolizes the Mutombo finger wave, the Iverson step-over, and the trash-talking Big Ticket. Yet in today’s NBA, even after a guard baptizes a big at the rim, he isn’t even allowed to look in his direction for longer than half a second if not to pick up the Tech. The two are interwoven since the main reason taunting has been eliminated from the game is to avoid the possibility of a violent outbreak.

Something that constantly occurs when discussing sports is confusing the league and its ethics with the morality that dictates our real lives. The NBA is a created idea, not a nation-state, and the basketball that is played for our entertainment is by definition a game. Plenty of the viewers who love basketball allow enjoy watching prize fights in boxing and MMA, places where controlled violence is not only tolerated but is the essence of the sport itself. Mostly because of the Malice in the Palace and the violent outburst that hospitalized several fans the NBA has adopted the idea that it should have a no tolerance rule towards violence and the taunting that may instigate it. But maybe it is something that should be revisited. This is a product and as they so often repeat a business that is attempting to maximize profits. Well, the people have spoken, they love conflict, loud rivalries, and violence.

Possibly what could be done is soften the penalties for the small interactions of a push or a taunt and then clearly outline strict season-ending suspensions for excessive violence to another player or fan. Jokic’s hit got him a 1-game suspension and it was merited. However, if he would’ve continued and swung on Morris repeatedly, then he would start to enter the space of excessive violence. It obviously is an extremely delicate and subjective space, one which is very difficult to predict the possible

consequences if shifted. But maybe some middle ground can be created between what was and what is. The sport can be whatever we want it to be, and the new rule changes have shown not only can the sport change but become a far more interesting product to consume. If the biggest concern is the players’ overall safety, the question then should then be asked to them directly of what type of basketball environment they would like to be a part of.

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