On January 8, 2014, the NBA fined New York Knicks guard J.R. Smith $50,000 for recurring instances of unsportsmanlike conduct, specifically Smith’s intentional untying of an opponent’s shoelace for a second time in two games. Not surprisingly, news of this infraction and its corresponding penalty were widely reported in media because of the “amusing” nature of Smith’s violation. However, fines are actually quite common in the NBA, hundreds of them being meted out each season.
The world’s premier professional basketball league has fined players, coaches, team owners, and entire teams for a variety of reasons. The most common infractions have been criticizing referees and fan confrontation, with fighting and flagrant fouls not being far behind. However, because most people involved in the NBA make huge amounts of money, the league has occasionally deemed it necessary to impose enormous fines to get their message across more potently.
Here are ten of the most expensive fines that the NBA has ever dealt out:
10. San Antonio Spurs / Unjustifiably Resting Players / $250,000
Spurs coach Gregg Popovich doesn’t deny that his team’s superstars are no longer that young. In fact, he occasionally jokes about it by listing “old” as the reason for some of his players not being available for certain games. But NBA Commissioner David Stern wasn’t very amused when Popovich didn’t bring Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, and Danny Green to Miami for a televised early season game in 2012. The resulting punishment: a quarter of a million dollars.
Before this infraction by the Spurs, other teams had previously rested their superstars for certain games, which made the huge fine levied against San Antonio quite controversial. Stern ruled, however, that what the Spurs had done was “a disservice to the league and . . . fans.”
The Spurs didn’t comment on the penalty.
9. Latrell Sprewell (NYK) / Failure to Report a Broken Hand / $250,000
Latrell Sprewell and the Knicks were getting along just fine after he managed to resurrect his basketball career in New York. However, their relations cooled when the team punished their superstar with a suspension and a $250,000 fine for failing to report a broken hand. Sprewell claimed he had suffered the injury while slipping on his yacht during the off-season, but regardless, the Knicks were peeved that they had been left in the dark that Latrell would be out of commission for six weeks.
The fine was the largest that New York had ever imposed on a player.
8. Damon Stoudamire (POR) / Arrest for Possessing Marijuana / $250,000
As if being arrested for possession of marijuana and drug paraphernalia wasn’t bad enough, in 2003, Damon Stoudamire was also suspended and fined $250,000 by his team, the Portland Trail Blazers, for that same infraction. It had been Stoudamire’s third arrest involving marijuana, and his team wanted to send a strong message to convince their point guard to get help for his substance abuse.
Damon eventually completed a 90-day drug rehabilitation program and later submitted a urine test. It came out clean.
7. Aubrey McClendon (SEA) / Comments on Potential Franchise Move / $250,000
In 2007, Seattle Supersonics co-owner Aubrey McClendon was interviewed by an Oklahoma business newspaper. In it, he was quoted as saying,
But we didn’t buy the team [the Sonics] to keep it in Seattle. We hoped to come here. We know it’s a little more difficult financially here in Oklahoma City, but we think it’s great for the community, and if we could break even, we’d be thrilled.
The statement shocked Sonics fans and local politicians in Seattle. More consequentially for McClendon, his words also resulted in a huge $250,000 fine.
6. Portland Trail Blazers / Illegal Contact with Undergraduates / $250,000
Despite how misleadingly worded the offense is, “illegal contact with undergraduates” doesn’t involve any form of sexual harassment. The actual violation, which resulted in a $250,000 fine being levied against the Trail Blazers, was grounded on an NBA rule that prohibits teams from communicating with undergraduates. And that’s what Portland was discovered to have done when it indirectly contacted Hakeem Olajuwon and Patrick Ewing, who at the time (1984) were undergrads from Georgetown.
Harry Glickman, vice president for Portland, explained, “We never once thought we were doing anything wrong.” NBA Commissioner David Stern didn’t agree and proceeded to enforce the penalty.
5. Micky Arison (MIA) / Unauthorized Comments During a Lockout / $500,000
NBA lockouts are very tense, and all parties involved, including league officials, team owners and basketball players, are limited in what they can and can’t communicate to the public. Apparently, the limitation covers tweets, and this was a truth painfully made known to Miami Heat owner Micky Arison when he was fined a cool $250,000 for posts he made through his Twitter account during the 2011 NBA lockout.
Here are some of the very expensive tweets he posted in response to some angry fans:
Arison deleted the tweets within less than an hour of posting them, but that wasn’t quick enough for the eyes of NBA officials, who proceeded to impose the fine on him.
4. Vladimir Radmanović (LAL) / Separating Shoulder While Snowboarding / $500,000
NBA players aren’t just NBA players. There are other aspects in their lives, too. Many of them are also husbands, fathers and businessmen, among other things outside of basketball. Apparently, however, “snowboarder” isn’t one of the roles that NBA players are allowed to play in their free time.
This was made known to former NBA player and then LA Lakers forward Vladimir Radmanović in 2007 when he was found to have violated his contract by, well, snowboarding. Perhaps his extreme sports activity wouldn’t have been such a big deal if he hadn’t separated his shoulder in the process. But he did, and as a result, it wasn’t just a shoulder that Vladimir ended up separating. $500,000 also ended up being separated from Radmanović’s wallet.
The principle behind the penalty was that NBA players shouldn’t engage in activities that may jeopardize their health. It seems that the incident also taught Radmanović not to engage in activities that may jeopardize his finances.
3. New York Knicks and Denver Nuggets / Participation in a Brawl / $500,000 each
On December 16, 2006, the Denver Nuggets visited Madison Square Garden for a regular season game against the New York Knicks. The match wasn’t particularly exciting. The Knicks trailed the entire game; the closest the team could come was within two points behind the Nuggets in the first half. Near the end of the game, Denver had brought the lead up to twenty, and it looked like the game was going to end with an uneventful Nuggets win.
However, with 1:15 remaining, and Denver ahead by 9, the Knicks’ Mardy Collins fouled Nuggets guard J.R. Smith on a fast break by slapping Smith’s neck with his arms, causing Smith to fall to the ground. As soon as he got up, he and Collins began arguing, while Denver’s Nate Robinson began yelling at Smith and attempted to punch him. Smith then tackled Robinson into the courtside seats before the players were separated.
Just when the fighting seemed like it was about to end, New York’s Carmelo Anthony suddenly punched Collins in the face, knocking him to the ground. Nuggets Jarred Jeffries and Robinson then chased Anthony as he retreated to the Nuggets’ bench, but they were stopped by coaches and teammates.
As a result of the incident, all ten players on the court at the time of the brawl were ejected by officials. Afterwards, seven players were suspended for a total of 47 games and lost more than $1.2 million in combined salaries. Worse, each team was fined a staggering half a million dollars.
2. Mark Cuban (DAL) / Criticism of NBA Officiating / $500,000
Mark Cuban has been fined $250,000 for criticizing NBA officials not once, but twice. The first time came in 2001 for taunting officials and daring the league to punish him after his Dallas Mavericks suffered a 107-104 loss to the Pistons. The Mavs’ team owner was irate that a goaltending violation hadn’t been called against the Pistons even though a replay showed that a Detroit player’s hand had touched the rim with the ball in the air. To make matters worse, Cuban had the replay frozen on the JumboTron and then called photographers to take pictures of it.
The second $250,000 fine against the .com billionaire came in 2006 after Game 5 of the NBA Finals. The penalty was actually for several acts of misconduct against officials. These acts included walking onto the playing court to vent directly to an official, screaming into the stands towards David Stern and a group of league executives, and using profanity during a post-game session with reporters.
In between those two huge fines, in 2002, the NBA punished Cuban with its most expensive fine ever for a team owner. Cuban committed his offense after a Mavs loss against the Spurs. The outspoken owner claimed that referees had ignored several travelling violations incurred by the Spurs’ Tim Duncan. Cuban was also quoted criticizing Ed Rush, the NBA’s Director of Officials, saying,
Ed Rush might have been a great ref, but I wouldn’t hire him to manage a Dairy Queen.
For those words, Cuban was fined $500,000. Rumor has it, however, that the severity of the fine was also a result of Cuban dropping multiple F-bombs on David Stern behind closed doors.
Cuban isn’t a complete monster, though. The anointed “King of NBA Fines” matches every dollar he’s fined with a donation to charitable organizations.
1. Minnesota Timberwolves / Circumvention of the Salary Cap / $3,500,000
The NBA’s salary cap was put in place with the objective of levelling the playing field so that wealthy teams wouldn’t be able to monopolize the rights to the best players in the league. Predictably, several teams have found ways of circumventing the rule to build the strongest teams they possibly can, but not many of these transgressions have been discovered. Unfortunately for the Minnesota Timberwolves, in 2000 they were found to have violated salary cap rules, and the league made sure to make an example of the incident.
Timberwolves executive Kevin McHale was discovered to have promised Joe Smith a future multi-million-dollar deal if the power forward agreed to sign with the team for an amount below market value. That would give the team some space to make additional player moves in the short term.
As a result of the discovery of the under-the-table deal, the last year of Smith’s contract was voided, three of Minnesota’s first-round picks were forfeited, and the team was charged $3.5 million — the most expensive fine in NBA history.
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