Was it dirty or just a bad-luck play? That’s the controversy enveloping the NBA Playoffs after San Antonio Spurs star Kawhi Leonard injured his ankle landing on the foot of Golden State Warriors center Zaza Pachulia.
Spurs coach Gregg Popovich didn’t mince words in ripping Pachuila during a media session Monday but the internet quickly struck back as only the internet can.
If you’re just catching up, here’s the play in question. Did Pachulia move under Leonard on purpose or by accident? That’s the debate currently roiling NBA fandom.
Popovich on Monday seemed certain Pachulia was playing dirty.
“A two-step, lead with your foot close-out is not appropriate. It’s dangerous, it’s unsportsmanlike. It’s just not what anybody does to anybody else,” the Spurs coach said. “And this particular individual has a history with that kind of action.”
Here’s more, but you probably get the gist already.
And now: The rub!
Shortly after Popovich ripped Pachulia, a November 2006 article from the San Antonio Express-News started worming its way around Reddit and Twitter. The internet has a long memory.
That article concerned a player named Bruce Bowen, who played for the Spurs for eight seasons before retiring in 2009. Bowen is widely regarded as one of the dirtier players in NBA history, as any quick YouTube search will show you. (While most stars have compilations of their highlights, YouTube features an entire catalogue of videos spotlighting Bowen’s dirtiest plays.)
The November 2006 article concerned Stu Jackson, then an NBA executive, calling Bowen to warn the Spurs player he needed to give other players more room to land after they shot when he was defending them. In other words, Bowen was caught doing the exact same thing Pachulia did to Leonard on Sunday.
But Bowen then, unlike Pachulia now, played for Popovich. And the Spurs coach wasn’t about to stand for any criticism.
“They didn’t bother to call the owner, the (general manager) or the coach,” Popovich said at the time. “No one. They’re trying to change the way Bruce plays and we don’t even know about it?”Secondly, what they’re telling him is highly inaccurate. It’s unfounded and fueled by media pressure and player complaints.”
He also added this: “The people who cry about it are just frustrated about having to go against Bruce.”
He also said this: “I told Bruce, ‘You be Bruce Bowen. You’re the best (expletive) defender in this league. You will NOT change the way you play defense.'”
So yeah, if you’re scoring at home: Popovich in 2006 defended Bowen for doing the same thing for which he ripped Pachulia on Monday. That’s why a newspaper article from more than a decade ago suddenly became a hot link online.
Now, does this prove Popovich is some kind of bad person? Of course not; he’s trying to get his team any edge it can against a heavily favored Golden State team.
Does it prove Pachulia hurt Leonard on purpose? No, although it’s hard to argue he wasn’t being a bit reckless.
But it does prove, yet again and beyond any doubt, that the internet never forgets.