In February 2009 the Phoenix Suns dished out a one-game suspension to forward Jason Richardson. His crime: an arrest for speeding 55 mph over the posted limit with an unrestrained 3-year-old child in the back seat. That April, Boston guard Ray Allen and Orlando forward Dwight Howard received one-game suspensions for throwing elbows at opposing players. In January 2010 the NBA fined LeBron James $25,000 for a sideline temper tantrum during which he kicked a water bottle.
Enter Kobe Bryant. After being whistled for a foul during an April 12 contest with San Antonio, the Lakers guard hurled a profane insult at the referee. His punishment: a $100,000 fine handed down from the NBA the following day. Why so much? The insult contained what might best be described as a gay slur.
In the days following the incident, Bryant's fine proved to be the least of his concerns. After all, he earns more than $300,000 per game. But the public-relations backlash had the superstar reeling. He issued a public apology, but gay advocacy groups didn't buy it. So Bryant provided a second, more complete apology in a nationally broadcast radio interview. Then, with the incident still percolating atop the news cycle, Bryant sat for an extended interview with ESPN, during which he called himself "ignorant" and insisted that as a teen he had played the role of gay defender: "I used to beat up a lot of kids even in high school who used to tease my friends because they were gay, or because they were black, or because they were Jewish, or because they were yellow, or because they were whatever."
Bryant has now vowed to work with the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) to raise awareness of how words can hurt people. Much of this action could prove helpful, but might the hysteria be excessive? Just 10 years ago, fellow basketball superstar Allen Iverson fired the identical profanity at a fan during an NBA game. His punishment: a $5,000 fine.
Out of the woods
When Tiger Woods missed a short eagle putt at the 15th hole at Augusta during the final round of The Masters, the last best hope to avoid an international sweep of golf's four major championships slipped away. Even had Woods sunk the putt, the likelihood of holding off Charl Schwartzel was thin at best. The young South African birdied the final four holes at Augusta to win going away and complete the European tour's four-part mastery of golf's greatest crowns. For the first time in 17 years, U.S. golf is without a reigning men's major champion.
It gets worse for the world's highest-paid tour. Just one American (Woods) cracked the top five at Augusta, and just three made the top 10. In the world golf rankings, European tour pros now hold the top three positions. Add in Europe's victory in last year's Ryder Cup, and the illusion of U.S. dominance in the game crumbles. With emerging European talents like Rory McIlroy and Martin Kaymer playing the bulk of their schedules overseas, stateside players may miss facing the world's stiffest competition week in and week out for years to come.
It's enough to get golf fans itching for a world tour, a united global schedule pitting the best players against one another every time they tee it up. And according to both the U.S. and European tours' respective commissioners, such a dream could become reality. At a press conference last month, PGA Tour head Tim Finchem told reporters that a merging of tours could happen in as little as 10 years. European top man George O'Grady agreed. But all the interest in tour integration and emerging European stars could flatline in a moment were Woods to recapture his past form.