Excellent article by Geoffrey Norman in today's National Review Online. Norman points out that the melee last Friday night at the Palace of Au burn Hills was inevitable: "The fracas in Detroit was not scripted but it was, nevertheless, inevitable. The NBA sells a product that might as well be called 'gangstaball.' The players are world-class dunkers, exhibitionists, and malcontents. But, as last year's Olympics demonstrated, when they are required to play actual team basketball, they can't handle a squad from Puerto Rico. As the quality of play has declined in the NBA over the last several years, so have fan interest and television ratings."
The NBA has devolved over the years increasingly into a series of mano a mano combats, with the rules being continuously bent to allow the kind of presumably dramatic one-on-one confrontations between the man with the ball and a defender. Rough, physical play has been characterized as a test of every player's manhood. To back down from a confrontation is construed as a sign of weakness, not praised as a laudable instance of self-control. This sort of false toughness has been the sine qua non of the league in the past couple of decades, and team play on the offensive end has indeed thus been deemphasized. It is also why so few players can actually shoot a basketball with any accuracy: that's sissy stuff. Dunking the ball is what really shows them who's your daddy.
The league has actually done a good job of keeping the number of player fights to a minimum, but the atmosphere of the game has increasingly become one of barely controlled mayhem. When the audiences learn from such a culture and react as they have seen these wealthy celebrities do, it should hardly surprise anybody.