Before last night Robert Sacre was a celebration unto himself, a kid at Christmas awake at dawn. On the bench his euphoria, his leaping into the air and jumping in place and hand clapping was institutionalized throughout every game, even the dull ones, even the miserable ones. He was a basketball player, no he was a fan, no, he was a basketball player, one with a towel he waved, shouting at the far end of the court, hurrahing his team to victory one possession at a time. He was a mascot but in a beautiful sense: he cared so much it was contagious. The thing is passion is passion, whether you are playing or not. So there he was, the last pick in the second round of the 2012 draft, bald and covered in ink and buoyant, unable to contain his exhaustive enthusiasm. He was more joyful than any other bench player in the league not because he cared about the game and they didn’t, but he cared intensely that his teammates succeeded. That pretty much was the Robert Sacre NBA bio, great teammate, team applauder, role player who entered games when someone was injured or when the game was out of reach.
What Robert Sacre did last night could have historic results- they would if I had my way. By continuing to play in last night’s game after he fouled out was to disprove a NBA myth: fouling out a game is essential to the integrity of the game, it is necessary. No. It is not. The earth did not fall in. The Lakers did not have an advantage. In fact it was just the opposite. Every subsequent Sacre foul would be a technical foul in addition to the personal foul so in essence a three point play. Robert had to play a very passive game . No more pick and rolls with Robert and whomever. No going up for rebounds in the paint. A charging foul, a foul on the rebound would add three points to a game that was slipping away from the Lakers. At this point the Lakers were exhausted, this being the second night of a back to back. Their legs were shot-36 three pointers. They had to grit out the last three minutes and they could not use their center on offense or defense.
Advantage Cleveland. All they had to do was drive the ball into the lane and to the rim on each possession. Either Robert would back off or he would recover late and foul at the rim. Possibly if Mike Brown had put Kyrie Irving back into the game this might have happened but as it was Cleveland kept to their script and launched ridiculous shots, not taking into account the Lakers dilemma.
Which brings me to my point. When the NBA Competition Committee meets to go over possible rule changes they should look at this game and take it for what it is, a blueprint for the future. They should implement the Sacre Rule. Simply the rule would mean a player never fouls out. Never. He gets six fouls. After the sixth foul he stays in the game. Each subsequent foul is a technical plus three foul shots, in essence a four point play.
This serves two different needs. One it keeps great players on the floor. Fans pay a lot of money to see Lebron and Kobe and Durant. Officiating is horrible some nights. Why punish fans because an official is having a bad day at work or has an agenda against certain players? Why punish players for aggression or lack of judgment? The middle ground is what happened last night. Let players with six fouls stay in the game but increase the penalty, make the consequences punitive enough to affect strategy. It would add intrigue to the game. Four point plays are rare. In a close game it could change the calculus from winning to losing.
One of the reasons the foul out rule was put into place was to force players to be disciplined once they get into foul trouble. Otherwise, the thinking went, they would blatantly foul on each play. Perhaps in 1961 that would have existed. But the modern player is more skilled and smarter and so much more is at stake. It only takes seconds to go from hero to goat. The four point play would create a punishment system that would cause players to hesitate, to almost be invisible. And then what? How do you play then? The coaches would have to implement a different strategy.
Some of the new rules enacted by the Competition Committee are inane. The new rule where you get a personal foul if you touch the ball after it goes out of the basket instead of the referee and that is a personal foul and then a technical foul is ridiculous. It is a rule about behavior. The Sacre rule is a rule about the game itself, about how it is possible to have five players but you have to play as if you have four. It would be a dramatic departure to a game that at its core is nothing more than entertainment. The game last night was spell blinding and climactic, like watching someone fall off a cliff, and not because the Lakers were on the verge of blowing a 26 point lead. It was the dynamics of the Sacre melodrama and the Lakers with five players only and the Cavs playing as if there was nothing absurd about the Lakers having no players on the bench. Change is good. Even for a rule that is 60 years old.