Unwritten rules. Sports can't live with them, and they can't live without them. As confusing as it may be to keep track of all the things that athletes are and are not allowed to do in order to avoid "showing up" the opponent or "disrespecting the game," these unspoken agreements have existed since the advent of sport to help keep highly competitive, athletically superior human beings from tearing each other limb from limb.
So when a player seemingly violates one of these rules, you usually know it pretty quickly.
Such was the case during the New Orleans Pelicans' 128-117 win over the Phoenix Suns on Friday night. The Pelicans had the game well in hand, leading by nine points with under 10 seconds remaining. However, rather than dribble out the clock, as is customary in such situations for the winning team, Pelicans superstar Zion Williamson elected to put on a show for his Smoothie King Center faithful by throwing down a thunderous 360 windmill dunk in the closing seconds.
In the video, you can even hear Pelicans broadcaster and former NBA guard Antonio Daniels saying, "No, no, no!" as Williamson, who finished with 35 points on 13-for-17 shooting, prepares for liftoff. Daniels clearly had a sense of foreboding, and sure enough the Suns took exception to Williamson's exploits, leading to an altercation after the final buzzer.
Suns guard Chris Paul and Pelicans guard Jose Alvarado seemed to get into a bit of a shouting/shoving match, and then a whole lot more shouting and shoving ensued, though it appears no punches or significant blows were thrown. We'll have to wait and see if the NBA takes any further action in the coming days -- and speaking of coming days, the Suns will be staying in New Orleans as the two team will get back at it on the same floor Sunday afternoon. (They'll also face each other on Dec. 17 in Phoenix.)
Back to the dunk, and what might've led up to it, after the game Williamson said that Phoenix eliminating New Orleans last postseason in a six-game, first-round series was on his mind. Sidelined with a foot injury for the entire season, the All-Star admittedly had a sour taste in his mouth when he threw down the controversial slam.
"I got carried away a little bit. I admit that," Williamson said of his late-game dunk. "But I was in that locker room and my brothers were down because the Suns sent us home last year. That's a tough moment to be a part of, so in that moment I got carried away. I admit that. It was out of character for me. So, you know, if they was to do the same thing, I wouldn't have no problem with it."
Not only did the Suns and Pelicans tussle in last year's playoffs, but they've also been tussling at the top of the Western Conference standings so far this season. New Orleans (winners of six straight) leapfrogged over Phoenix (losers of three straight) into first place Wednesday night, and Friday's win game the Pelicans (17-8) a half-game lead on the Grizzlies (17-9) and 1.5-game lead on the Suns (16-10).