Growing up in the suburbs playing neighborhood sports there were a fair amount of fights. When you are playing competitive running bases, occasionally a fielder is invariably going to apply a tag a bit too hard, too late, or on someone’s face as they dive headfirst. Obviously that isn’t even to mention football. Worse yet, there was kickball when a sprint down the first base line would turn into a game of dodgeball where the runner would be out if you pegged him from across the diamond. Competitive juices were flowing and you just knew that occasionally the powder keg would blow. Normally not quite to the level that it exploded last night in Detroit with Charlie Villanueva and Ryan Hollins during the Cavs’ 110-101 victory.
Everyone will want to talk about Villanueva because he appeared to be the crazy one having to be wrestled out of the arena. He charged across the court long after everything seemed to be settling down which emits a certain air of pre-meditated psychosis. He reportedly followed that up with his long-lasting rage that led him to want to get at Ryan Hollins deep in the bowels of the Palace after both players were sent to their respective locker rooms. Many will want to judge Villanueva, but I’ll tell you. I’ve been there.
Did you see Ryan Hollins’ face? Anyone who has ever had a little brother with whom they were competitive will recognize that face. It is a playful version of Jack Nicholson’s “Here’s Johnny!” from The Shining. Imagine that? A playful version of a face that Jack Nicholson used to portray a man who lost his mind in a secluded hotel during the off-season as he went on a rampage with the intent of murdering his family.
There is something about that look that hits people in their animal nature. Maybe it is being able to see the whites of a person’s eyes as they stare at you. Maybe it is the combination of those eyes and a big smile that is showing all teeth. Most people assume that dogs showing teeth is a sign of aggression. Maybe it means something to humans too at our basest instinctual level.
Back in the neighborhood our scuffles were always very similar to those in the NBA. Everyone fought at half speed pushing, shoving, screaming, but hardly ever throwing a punch. In the end, everyone’s parents understood there would be some fights and disagreements, but there were unwritten rules about punching, kicking and actually trying to hurt people during these fracases. Nobody really wanted to face the wrath of their parents – or anyone else’s parents for that matter – over someone actually getting hurt in a fight.
Same with the NBA. These guys want to make their points known and push and shove a little bit. Occasionally if you’re Zydrunas Ilgauskas you might toss a ball at someone. Rudy Tomjanovich getting socked by Kermit Washington is the exception, not the rule. The escalation like we saw in Detroit with Ron Artest so many years ago is the exception’s exception.
With that perspective in mind, the Ryan Hollins vs. Charlie Villanueva dust-up from last night wasn’t even a blip on the radar. That’s in hindsight though. That thing was escalating above and beyond the typical NBA fight pretty quickly. Something about it just felt particularly volatile as it was happening. People will blame Villanueva given his history, but Ryan Hollins seemed all too happy to strike the match last night.
I guess that is the confluence of factors like a long NBA season, losing and frustration. I am glad it didn’t escalate any further, but if anyone says they don’t understand losing their mind like that, I would guess they haven’t played nearly enough competitive sports. Familiarity breeds contempt and something about the way Ryan Hollins was looking across the court at Charlie Villanueva last night reminded me of how my little brother used to knowingly push my buttons.