All it takes to know Quentin Richardson and Paul Pierce have some beef is to watch them play basketball once. The two have battled for years with the ferocity of a pouncing tiger, and go a long way back. Marc Spears reported that Pierce once hosted Richardson on a recruiting visit at the University of Kansas, so they’ve known each other at least since Pierce was in college and Richardson was still in high school.
When the Celtics first added Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen, Richardson said, “We’re not in awe of them. They ain’t won no championships. They got a good record right now, but that don’t matter.” After receiving a 104-59 choke slam, Richardson stayed behind his own words. “I’m a competitive athlete,” he said. “I’m not about to be afraid of anyone because they have three great players. Because they have Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen and Paul Pierce, are we supposed to crawl into a corner and say we’re afraid to play them? Go ask the other 29 teams and you show me a player that says he’s afraid to go play them. I’ve never heard of that.”
But those comments only scratched the surface of the hatred. Richardson says now, “I don’t like them, and they know it,” and that dislike has been evident for a long time. Two seasons ago, a couple months after Q’s “I’m not afraid of them” comments, Richardson and Pierce were ejected from a game for excessively jawing at each other. As Richardson waited to leave the court he pointed at Pierce, as if to challenge Pierce to a fight in the hallway. Even after his team’s 109-93 victory, Doc Rivers was disappointed in the constant chatter. “It wasn’t just Paul. It was five of us. All of us running our mouths instead of playing basketball,” he said. “You don’t need to run your mouth. I wasn’t happy with that. We deserved the techs. We deserved the ejections. We deserved everything we got and we’re very lucky to win the game. [If] we’re playing a team that’s playing terrific, you get caught up in that (junk) and you lose the game.”
So why don’t the two like each other? Why does there always seem to be some type of altercation every time they play? Why can’t they just play basketball?
Gary Washburn reports that there are rumors that Richardson challenged Pierce to a fight within the last few years and Pierce declined. That would explain Richardson’s comments: “All I will say is people act one way in NBA environments where things can be restrained and you’re going to be penalized, fined and da-da-da-da-da-da,” Richardson told Yahoo!’s Marc Spears. “Stuff is going to come to a screeching halt as soon as it happens anyway. And you know, you put some people in different environments, they want to do the same thing. And those two pretty much know that. They’ve been in different environments and didn’t act the same way. You know, that’s why I call them actresses.”
But, if Washburn’s rumors are true, why is Quentin Richardson trying to fight Paul Pierce… or worse, as his words might suggest? Probably because of something said while the two were playing basketball. Even so, Richardson should know better. Richardson has had two brothers killed in Chicago by street violence, so he should know the perils of escalating confrontation. Still, he complains that Pierce isn’t man enough to stick up to him off the court. Is it a respect thing? A “street cred” thing? Shouldn’t Richardson, and everybody else in the NBA, be above street cred? They are, after all, millionaires.
Washburn put it nicely:
There’s no question that some professional athletes relish their tough-guy reputations off the court. Society has increasingly celebrated bad boys and lauded celebrities with tarnished images. There are those NBA players who choose to emphasize their toughness with body art, loud screams after dunks, or never walking away from confrontation.
Players such as Charlotte’s Stephen Jackson have meticulously learned to harness that anger into more productive play and fewer altercations. That’s a byproduct of maturity. But it’s rather sad — although great copy for newspapers — when a player has to question the manhood of another because he won’t elevate their dispute into a physical confrontation.
Pierce is 32 years old and earning $19.7 million this season. The only fighting he needs to do at this point in his career is on “Don King Boxing’’ on his Wii. Same with Garnett.
Their reputations won’t benefit one bit from taking Richardson’s words personally. Some challenges need to be ignored. This is one of them.
In that same Washburn article, Ray Allen tried to explain the emotions that tend to boil over during a game. “A lot of guys play with emotion. That’s what I think flares up.”
Guys playing with emotion and tempers flaring would be fine, if it were confined to the basketball court. Even when NBA fights get bad, the worst that normally happens is a bruise or broken bone and maybe a suspension or fine. When the fights spill over beyond the court, though, the risk of danger increases ten-fold. Pierce knows first-hand what can happen when altercations arise off the basketball court; in 2000, Pierce was stabbed 11 times in the face, neck and back while at a nightclub, to within a few inches of his life. Though Pierce was back to playing basketball only three days after the stabbing, the nightclub altercation could have resulted in death.
Richardson’s continued efforts to provoke Pierce into a fight off the court speak to a far darker reality than a simple elbow thrown during a basketball game. Richardson should know the dangers of such calls for violence can end badly; his buried brothers should have taught him as much. Yet he continues to suggest that Pierce and Garnett lack manhood because they don’t back up their on-court trash-talk with violence away from the hardwood.
It is a sad state of society that people continue to misuse the term “manhood” to describe someone unafraid of a meaningless confrontation. Stepping away from a fight, deflating the hostility in a situation, THAT is what should be valued. People should be lauded for being peaceful, not berated. Are there times to fight? Yes, but fight when you have been served a severe injustice. Fight when your son’s life is on the line, or your wife has been threatened. Don’t fight because you have some petty difference with somebody, or because you feel your “pride” has been challenged; fights off the court can lead to far worse fates than a one-game suspension.
I understand the urge to fight, the macho desire to prove your toughness and dominance. I’ve even been in fights before and, while I like to think I’ve finally outgrown that stage in my life, I realize the societal pulls that influence people — and especially males — to use violence to solve our problems and prove our manhood. Softness is discouraged, frowned upon, cause for embarrassment. I get it.
Toughness on a basketball court, the unwillingness to back down, can help teams win games. I value a player who gives hard fouls, throws his body around, and backs down from nobody. Players like that win games. Championships, even. In basketball, accepting a challenge is almost always a good thing.
But there is a time to grow up, and a time to realize that a real man isn’t measured by how many fights he wins or how many challenges he accepts, but by how he carries himself. In life, away from basketball hoops, some challenges should be turned away. There is no need for two millionaires to duke it out, all over some immature beef that probably stems from a game of basketball. Quentin Richardson hasn’t learned that yet.
So while Kevin Garnett was the only player to receive a suspension for his part in Saturday night’s scuffle — and, don’t get me wrong, he deserved the suspension — it’s Richardson who’s headed for real trouble if his attitude doesn’t change.