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NBA should have disciplined LeBron

by Peter Vecsey

NEW YORK — As I might have previously mentioned in this space, the referees were manifestly derelict in their duty for looking the other way and failing to dispense punishment to fit the crime when Cleveland’s LeBron James cavalierly messed with the mind of Washington’s Gilbert Arenas between Game 6 series-implicating foul shots.

So, I’ve been thinking; how, pray tell, can the NBA have a rule that assesses Dikembe Mutombo a taunting technical for wagging a finger in the face of an opponent whose shot he just invalidated, yet it’s OK, cool, oh-so cute and considered gamesmanship by many for James to make contact with the shooter . . . and talk junk to him?

That’s two civil rights violations, right there.

Yes, Scottie Pippen unnerved skinless Karl Malone in a Finals situation in the late ’90s. And, Pippen, a practiced choker in his own right as a young player (and TV commentator), by no means, was the only heckler harpooning opponents.

You should only know what smack Pippen and Horace Grant were bombarding Dennis Rodman with during the series that ended the Bad Boys’ reign of terror; Isiah Thomas says that’s why he and other Pistons split for the dressing room before the rout was fully completed without shaking hands with the Bulls.

Today’s NBA, as we’re all aware, is exclusively dissimilar. Today’s version is all about order on the court, David Stern wants to speak; no laughing, no smiling, no showing of the teeth, or else you will go to jail.

And, as evidenced by the epidemic of suspensions in the first round (all of them well-earned), Stern’s adaptation is stricter . . . but, evidently, not always strictly enforced. The refs and the league office seem to pick and choose when to crack down on the spot or after the fact.

How else do you explain Rip Hamilton getting a free pass on an elbow to the face of Milwaukee’s Michael Redd?

How else should we interpret Manu Ginobili’s elbow to Ron Artest looked upon as being an accident?

If all things are equal, why was Bell penalized for clothes-lining Kobe, yet Bryant’s elbows to Bell’s face were overlooked?

(As Pat Riley aptly puts it, “There’s no such thing as an errant elbow.” Who knows, maybe the league evened things up in its mind by limiting Bell’s sentencing to one game when he could have easily gotten more?)

How else do you explain James not being assessed a “clear path” foul for invading Arenas’ space?

Ronnie Nunn, the director of officials, told me he thinks it’s against the rules.

If Nunn isn’t sure, how are his underlings supposed to know?

Meanwhile, players, broadcasters (even ex-coaches) and your favorite hack journalist have no shot.

If it is a rule — surely, that’s the case — why wasn’t anything done?

Why didn’t someone in authority intervene?

At last count, the three refs have six well-trained eyes. I assume at least a couple of them were monitoring the free-throw area. Hey, it was a dead ball situation; it’s not as if they should have been looking anywhere else.

Again, why wasn’t James instantly intercepted, and, at the bare minimum, warned to shut up and back off?

Furthermore, where were the other Wizards when this was going on?

Isn’t protecting your primary asset an essential bodyguard function?

Think Charles Oakley would have allowed an opponent to get anywhere close to Patrick Ewing in the same circumstances?

Think Maurice Lucas would have let anyone come within a ponytail of Bill Walton?

Think Ricky Mahorn would have permitted the enemy to get within whispering room of Isiah Thomas?

One of Arenas’ teammates, it says here, should have cut off James faster than a New York cabbie and administered some vigilante violence . . . just the type of street justice Stern is gravely intent on precluding.

Arenas wasn’t vaguely as offended as us purists. He contends James’ didn’t unravel or distract him, that trash talking is all part of the game. He said he would do it, too, and has done it often. That was after the game.

I’m guessing Arenas might feel a little differently once he learned James gave Cavalier teammates the choke sign when he joined them in the subsequent huddle and called Arenas a “bleeping wimp.”