Flagrantly Perkins

Kendrick Perkins was assessed a flagrant foul, penalty 2, for "shucking" Desmond Mason off of him after a foul left Mason hanging on to Perk for support. Was it the right call? Why did he do it? Would he do it again? What does this episode mean for Perkins and the Celtics?

Comment II.B to the 2004-2005 Official NBA Rules, incorporated as part of the rulebook and providing the standard by which flagrant fouls should be judged, states, in full:

To be unsportsmanlike is to act in a manner unbecoming to the image of professional basketball. It consists of acts of deceit, disrespect of officials and profanity. The penalty for such action is a technical foul. Repeated acts shall result in expulsion from the game and a minimum fine of $1000.

A flagrant foul—penalty (1) is unnecessary contact committed by a player against an opponent.

A flagrant foul—penalty (2) is unnecessary and excessive contact committed by a player against an opponent. It is an unsportsmanlike act and the offender is ejected immediately.

The offender will be subject to a fine not exceeding $35,000 and/or suspension by the Commissioner.

See Rule 12B—Section IV for interpretation and penalties.

Was Perk's "shucking off" of Mason, to borrow Tommy Heinsohn's phrase from last night, an act of deceit? Was it a disrepect of officials? Was it profanity? Of course not.

Was it unnecessary contact? Technically, Mason's holding on to Perk could have counted as unnecessary contact. However, officials are right to let that go, because if they were to call that a technical foul, players would be more likely to hurt themselves. Referees and the league, and the fans, all want to encourage good health from all athletes, so a little bump here and there to help regain balance would not create a flagrant foul call, though it is technically unnecessary.

What if Mason had leaned his whole body weight against Perk and just stayed there? Could Perk walk away and let him fall? Of course; why not?

What if Mason were hanging on to him with full force? Could Perk pry him off and push him away? It depends on how much force and contact was involved. It's a simple principle: reasonable actions are okay; unreasonable are not. If someone is trying to steal your car, you can try to restrain him, but you can't shoot him with intent to kill. It's unreasonable and excessive. Perk certainly wouldn't have the right to raise Mason above his head and throw him, wrestling-style, into the middle of the court then dive on him, lift him up, and do a pile driver. Some reasonable amount of force to extricate himself from the situation would be fine.

Perkins used a little too much force. There were two parts to his "shucking off" of Mason: first he maneuvered Mason off of his arm; then, just as Mason was about to fall free, Perk hastened the act by pushing him with full force onto the floor. The first part is unarguably reasonable. The second part was too much. It was born of frustration with the game, with the score, and with the hanging-on.

Perk went too far there.

So what would have been the absolutely correct call on this play? According to the rules, it should have been a double technical foul on Mason and Perkins, with a flagrant foul level 2 on Perk.

And that's exactly what was called, though I am not certain if the technical on Mason was called, as it should have been, for hanging on to Perk, or for any of his later actions, if he swore or acted in an unsportsmanlike manner or whatever. He did seem to be held back by his teammates and the officials so probably the technical was accurately assessed for holding on to Perk for too long after the play.

So Perk got what he deserved. Was it a mistake? More precisely, does he think it was a mistake? Not what will he tell the media: he may be coaxed by his coaches and peers to say something about frustration, though he would be better off simply not addressing it, which is indeed the route he has taken so far. But does he truly think he should not have done it?

Another way of asking that is: would Perk do it again?

I think he would. I don't think he should but I think he would. If you watch the replay you will see something on his face in the moment of his pushing off Mason that you will likely never see again in any player in the league this season or in the future, and which you haven't seen in probably a decade in this sport.

Red eyes.

Perk's eyes were flaming red in the heat of the moment. There was real fury there borne of righteousness and indignation. His was a glare that could inspire a revolution. It was not the wild-eyed look of a Dennis Rodman or a Ron Artest who in their moments can literally do anything. This was a look of strength, saying: I have the strength and the determination to do what is right.

And therein lies the difference between Perk and others like Artest or Rodman or Latrell Sprewell or Stephen Jackson. Perk would not have gone into the stands like the Pacers did. He would not kick a cameraman in the groin like Rodman did. He would not choke a coach like Sprewell did.

He has passion and fury but he also has heart. Heart to know what is good and what is evil, and what is right and what is not. His is the righteous anger of a man fighting on the side of justice and goodness; theirs is the ridiculous anger of a spurned child.

This is not mere hallucination on my part. Watch the replay. Watch his eyes. And then watch the final evidence: his reaction afterwards. He stands in his spot. Stoic. Unyielding. Calmly waiting for the referee's decision. When finally ejected, he walks out expressionlessly.

Perk backs down from no one. Not Kevin Garnett, not Desmond Mason, not a referee, not anybody. He does not attack. We will likely not see him chase after someone on the court. But he will not back down. His space is his and his alone and he will fight for it if he has to.

Like a homeowner breaking the kneecaps of an intruder he's already caught and immobilized, Perk went a little far in his treatment of Mason. But the message he sent to the league is loud and clear: my space is mine. It is not the message of a thug, but of a truly free person defending his property.

Did he go too far? Yes. Would he do it again in the same circumstances? Probably, though he might temper his shoving a little bit in the future. Are these circumstances less likely to occur in the future? Definitely. Burglars don't rob homes where guns are kept by watchful owners.

To be clear, Perk does not deserve praise for his rough treatment of Mason. He does not deserve accolades for shoving a world-class athlete to the floor with excessive force.

But the fire in his eyes and the stoicism of his response do cast light on his character: he is, in every good sense of the word, a man.