ORLANDO -- History was made Tuesday night in a Man-Bites-Dog sort of way. A basketball official "attacked" a fan for yelling at him.
Joe DeRosa (above, center, between Bill Kennedy and Marc Davis) tossed the ball at a guy named Franz Hanning, who tossed it right back. DeRosa then really blew it by tossing Hanning out of his seat at Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals.
It raises two immediate questions: What will the NBA do to DeRosa? And just what did Hanning yell?
In a way it doesn't matter. Short of outrageously foul language, fans are allowed to scream anything they want at officials. If DeRosa reacted the same way to everybody who questioned his work during the Magic-Celtics game, he would have thrown 17,467 basketballs into the stands.
Wouldn't you love to know what Hanning yelled?
In case you haven't seen the video, he was walking behind the scorer's table at the end of the second quarter. The officials were heading over to get their jackets, and Hanning started jawing at them.
DeRosa picked up a ball and tossed it over the scorer's table at Hanning. I used the phrase "attack" because I'm still hoping Hanning shows up at a press conference wearing a neck brace while announcing he's suing the NBA for half the value of LeBron James' next contract.
In truth, DeRosa's throw wouldn't have knocked over Perez Hilton. But it might still qualify as "assault" in some jurisdictions. In that case, Hanning was only defending himself when he tossed the ball back.
Either way, unlike Phil Jackson, Dwight Howard, et al., David Stern certainly can't fine Hanning for criticizing the officials. He'd better suspend DeRosa, or at least fine him $5,000. That's what Kevin Garnett got nicked for in 2006 when he tossed a ball at a fan in Memphis.
And Garnett's a player. He's supposed to act like a second-grader. DeRosa is an 18-year NBA official. He's supposed to be a detached arbiter of the rules, an authority figure.
Now he's a historical figure. Since the invention of the ball, there have been approximately 5.9 trillion instances of fans screaming at officials, umpires and referees. The officials may have been boiling inside, but on the outside they acted like deaf mutes being berated by mimes.
This might be the first time an official let on that he not only heard the insults, but they got to him. That's why for sheer posterity's sake, it would be nice to know what Hanning yelled. He is the Neil Armstrong of referee critiquing.
One small insult for man. One giant leap for irate fans.
Unfortunately, Hanning isn't talking. He's not just some yahoo who paints his face and screams at every questionable call. He's the CEO of Wyndham Vacation Ownership, a giant time-share condo operation. He's also a buddy of Boston coach Doc Rivers, who used to coach the Magic and whose family still lives in Orlando.
"As many people in Orlando know, I am a huge fan of NBA basketball, and especially my home team, the Orlando Magic. I think the NBA officials do a great job. I'm looking forward to the Magic going to Boston and evening up the series."
That's the statement Wyndham put out for Hanning on Wednesday. Zzzzz. It's like Rush Limbaugh congratulating Harry Reid for doing a "great job."
Maybe Hanning wants to seem more like a CEO than a fire-breathing fan. My guess is he wasn't quite so appreciative of DeRosa's work Tuesday night. It would be great to know what caused the official to crack, just to give millions of hoarse fans some words to keep them going when it seems nobody in stripes is listening to them.
They are. And now Stern has a bigger problem than Hanning wanting his money back for the second half.
DeRosa's ball toss has fired up the conspiracy theorists who insist the NBA wants TV-friendly teams to advance over Nielsen backwaters like Orlando. I think NBA officiating is good sometimes, horrible others. I don't think, however, the refs are fixing games so Kobe Bryant will be in the Finals.
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