The NBA recently announced that flopping will be fined more harshly during the playoffs. Specifically, there will be no warning for flopping; just an immediate $5,000 fine. Following this announcement, Crunchology brings you this detailed look at the history of NBA fines. This piece will take you on a tour of the NBA fines landscape, investigating the most common fines, the most heavily fined individuals, interesting fines and pretty much everything else you can imagine. Enjoy this piece and keep an eye out for flopping in the NBA Playoffs!
What Warrants a Fine in the NBA?
It seems that these days, just about anything can lead to a fine in the NBA. Tweeting, snowboarding, and simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time have all led to fines. Let’s take a look at what it takes to get penalized.
Fines were separated into very basic categories. You can see the breakdown of frequency and average cost of each fine category below. Based on data from 2003-13:
In a league where the officiating is allegedly rigged at times, one might think there could be some leniency when players or coaches choose to complain about the referees, but that is not the case. In fact, criticizing the refs is the most commonly fined offense in the NBA. It accounts for nearly a quarter of the total number of fines issued, and is responsible for more than $2 million out of the pockets of the guilty parties.
Phil Jackson has received more fines for criticizing the refs than any other individual. He earned himself seven fines for a total of $230,000 over the course of seven years for this particular offense. When asked whether he believed his comments to the media made a difference in referees’ calls, Jackson replied, “I don’t think it makes a difference. I know the referees take an eye test, but I don’t know if they take a reading test.”
Social Media Fines
Some humans are better suited to manage a Twitter account than others. There is no better example of this than when one takes a glance at the social media accounts of pro sports figures. The NBA is no stranger to foolish social media behavior. Here are some of the offenders who found themselves coughing up some cash for what they had to say in 140 characters or less.
Dec. 18, 2009 – Brandon Jennings Tweets Before Speaking to Media – $7,500
In 2009, Brandon Jennings was a rookie for the Milwaukee Bucks. After a double overtime victory over the Portland Trail Blazers, he realized that his team had just crossed an important threshold with their season record. Unfortunately, even though this comment was completely harmless, and was merely an expression of happiness for reaching the .500 point, Jennings tweeted just a bit too early. The NBA has a rule that prohibits players from tweeting until they have finished speaking with the media after games. This innocent tweet cost Mr. Jennings a cool $7,500.
June 8, 2011 – Gilbert Arenas Fails. Hard. – Unknown Fine
Gilbert Arenas was blessed with phenomenal basketball talent. Unfortunately, his incredible abilities were cancelled out by his inability to make good decisions in situations that others might consider simple. One of the many examples of this was his relentlessly offensive Twitter account. He wasn’t fined for any specific tweet, just for his Twitter presence in general. Here are some of the highlights…er…lowlights:
“good morning Twitter fam..i need me a slave to make me breakfast in the mornings..i guess yall might call them girlfriends…im hungry”
“I’m the only athlete that’s never cheated on his girl…but I did practice a lot.. to be good at anything u need practice….So my girl was the GAME and I had practice girls…comn ppl we all know practice makes perfect..I had to practice befor I went into the GAME….So fellas next time ur girl ask u if ur cheating say NO proudly but then say I practice a lot for u baby..tryin to be the best hahaha….Some ladies didn’t think that joke was funny…I’m sorry..I wanna be the best for u..so u should want ur man to practice his craft..lol”
“who do I hav to sleep with to get my account verified?? I hope its not a 10 to 2 girl!!!!at 10 she’s a 2. But by 2 she’s a 10..if that’s the case I don’t need it verified…”
“I feel bad using fake bait to catch [fish]. its like telln a girl she’s the only one and ur a ball player.(They HOPE) until they realize its fake…Since I’m on the subject. Don’t u hate when u meet a girl and she [???] u then ask at sum point ‘am I in ur top 2 or 3’ that’s a [trick] question. I answer like this — Your like a young labron u COULD be a great asset to this team but its all in ur work ethic”
“#youknowyouugly if ur a SINGLE MOTHER…lmaoooooooo sorry but thats funny…Single mothers out there its a joke…I wanted to be the one with the best line.”
Agent Zero indeed.
October 31, 2011 – Micky Arison Tweets About the CBA – $500,000
Can’t say I fully agree with this one. Arison was fined $500,000 for telling a disgruntled fan they were “barking at the wrong owner.” This shared his views on the collective bargaining agreement, which is against the rules. Whatever you say, David Stern.
March 10, 2012 – JR Smith Posts Racy Picture on Twitter – $25,000
J.R. Smith is known for his antics, but as far as the NBA was concerned, this incident took things a little too far. He received a $25,000 fine for tweeting the following picture of a scantily clad woman in his bed. Borderline NSFW:
You can’t watch the game like this, J.R.? On a small TV like that, neither could I.
The woman in the photo is Tahiry, a social media personality who is moderately famous. J.R. probably did her a favor with this tweet, but nonetheless she was pretty upset about it.
March 19, 2012 – Patrick Patterson Criticizes Refs on Twitter – $25,000
Patrick Patterson was fined $25,000 for criticizing the refs in this fairly mundane tweet when he played in Houston. Patterson now plays in Sacramento with superstar teammate DeMarcus Cousins. Cousins is one of the most penalized players in the NBA, and the Kings are one of the leagues absolute worst teams. Still happy about having that superstar, Patrick?
June 26, 2012 – Amare Stoudemire Messages Homophobic Slur on Twitter – $50,000
Oh, Amare. This is not the first time Amare Stoudemire has found himself in trouble on social media. Back in 2009 he was fine $7,500 for tweeting during a game. As the only repeat offender of fineable social media mistakes in the NBA, Amare Stoudemire not only failed to be more cautious after his first offense, he took his poor online decision making to a new low. Using homophobic slurs is generally not a good thing for anyone to do. When you are a multi-millionaire superstar athlete, it is an especially poor decision. This direct message on Twitter set him back $50,000.
December 9, 2012 – Stephen Jackson Threatens Serge Ibaka Via Twitter – $25,000
In 2012, Stephen Jackson decided to threaten Serge Ibaka using Twitter and this highly cryptic message written in Stak5 code, it cost him $25,000. Allow me to translate:
“Somebody tell Serge Ibaka that he is not gangster. I am more gangster than him, and the next time he tries to out-gangster me, I will punch him in the mouth. I promise.”
“Ball so hard mothafuckas do fine me.” Yes, they do, Stak Jak. Yes, they do.
January 7, 2013 – Mark Cuban Criticizes Refs on Twitter – $50,000
If you are Mark Cuban, the NBA treats you with exactly zero mercy. More on that later. $50,000 for this seemingly innocent tweet.
Criticizing the refs and misusing your Twitter are not the only things you can be fined for in the NBA. Other finable offenses include throwing your mouthpiece at the referee (who would have guessed?), toting guns, smoking the reefer, kicking towels around in frustration, wearing shorts that are too long and much, much more. We are eager to see what the NBA will come up with next.
Who Gets Fined?
Some people might think that only players get fined. While they are much more likely to be fined since they find themselves in the heat of the moment more frequently than coaches or owners, literally anyone in the NBA can be fined. The chart below breaks down the total amount fined to players, coaches, teams and owners since 2003. We’ll go into further detail about each group beneath the chart.
Players - (235 Fines for $5,355,500)
Players have incurred more than twice as many fines as coaches, teams and owners combined, but their average fine amount sits at $28,757. Only coaches have a lower average fine amount.
In 2007, nearly half of the total amount fined to players ($1,027,00) came from a single $500,000 fine dished out to Vladimir Radmanovic, the largest fine ever dealt to a player. Why such a large fine? For snowboarding, of course. Radmanovic separated his shoulder while snowboarding, which was a direct violation of his contract with the Lakers. Players are required to keep themselves safe and healthy during the off-season and All-Star Break. Getting injured while participating in a potentially dangerous activity like snowboarding is a no-no.
The chart below displays the top 20 most fined players in the NBA since 2003. Large, warm-colored boxes represent heavily fined players. Small, cool-colored boxes represent less-fined players.
Most Fined Player (Number of Fines): Rasheed Wallace – Eight fines for $205,000
All-Time Largest Player Fine: Vladimir Radmonovic – $500,000
We’ve discussed this one. Shoulder injury while snowboarding = breach of contract and hefty fine.
Coaches - (54 Total Fines for $1,327,500)
Coaches have the lowest average fine amount at $22,761. Criticism of refs is almost always the reason why a coach is fined. Phil Jackson alone has been fined seven times for criticizing the refs. Jackson, Larry Brown and Doc Rivers are the three most frequently misbehaving coaches, and they account for 23 of the 54 total fines levied against coaches since 2003. The chart below functions just like the last one.
Most Fined Coach: Phil Jackson – Eight fines for $380,000
All-Time Largest Coach Fine: Jeff Van Gundy – $100,000
Back in 2006, Jeff Van Gundy was coaching a Rockets team that was faced with a tough challenge against the Dallas Mavericks in the playoffs. One night, after the Rockets second victory in the series, Van Gundy allegedly received a call from a referee not officiating the games. The referee, whose identity is still unknown, told Van Gundy that the refs would be watching Yao Ming closely because Mark Cuban had been complaining to them about missed calls on the Rockets’ big man. His decision to publicly announce this phone call without disclosing the source earned him a $100,000 fine and may have contributed to the end of his coaching career, which came the following year.
Teams - (32 Total Fines for $2,860,000)
Teams have the highest average fine amount at $104,675. In 2006, the Knicks and the Nuggets were both fined $500,000 for their brawl at Madison Square Garden. Surprisingly, the Malice at the Palace incident in 2004, which one would think was more serious than the Knicks-Nuggets brawl, did not incur fines for the teams involved. However, players involved in the Malice at the Palace incident were suspended, which caused them to lose wages for each game they missed. Their total lost wages for that event were likely in excess of $25 million.
In 2009, the NBA came down hard(er than usual) on ref criticism. Most of the coaches who criticized the refs that year were fined and in addition, their team was fined as well. This explains the sudden spike of fines for teams in 2009.
The Spurs usually fly underneath the league’s disciplinary radar, yet in the chart below we find them among the most fined teams in the NBA. This is due mostly in part to the recent $250,000 fine handed to them when Gregg Popovich decided not to play Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and Danny Green for a game against the Heat earlier this season. Not only did they not play, they boarded a plane back to San Antonio, so they weren’t even in the city where the game was being played. Even though the Spurs’ bench put up a valiant effort, and nearly defeated the Heat, the move to sit stars was frowned upon by fans who had purchased tickets.
Most fined Team (Dollar Amount): Knicks and Nuggets – $700,000 each. Both teams incurred two fines.
Most fined Team (Number of Fines): Lakers - Five fines for $225,000
All-Time Largest Team Fine: Timberwolves – $3.5 Million
This is the largest fine ever issued in the history of the NBA. The Timberwolves were caught circumventing the salary cap in 2000. While attempting to sign Joe Smith, the Timberwolves used a sneaky secret contract to hide the true amount of money they planned to pay him. This is clearly illegal, and unfortunately for the T-Wolves, they got caught. It makes you wonder how many teams get away with this sort of thing…
Owners - (20 Total Fines for $1,945,000)
Owner fines are even rarer than team fines, but they do happen. Owners have the second highest average fine amount, at $74,042. In 2010, several owners made the mistake of discussing LeBron James’ free agency publicly, violating the league’s anti-tampering rules and earning fines totaling $235,000.
One of my personal favorite fined offenses also happened in 2010. Celtics GM Danny Ainge was fined $25,000 when he threw a towel into the air to distract JJ Hickson as he shot free throws.
Here is a chart displaying the most heavily fined owners. As you can see, Mark Cuban runs away with this category. Keep in mind, this chart doesn’t even include the fines he received prior to 2003.
Most Fined Owner : Mark Cuban – 10 Fines for $835,000 (His grand total is much more than this. See below.)
All-Time Largest Owner Fine: Micky Arison and Mark Cuban – $500,000 each
- Mark Cuban, owner of the Mavericks, was handed this obscene fine for a comment he made about League Director of Officials, Ed Rush.
- Micky Arison is the owner of the Heat. In 2011, during the collective bargaining agreement discussions, he responded to a Twitter accusation that owners don’t care about fans by saying the instigator was “barking at the wrong owner.” This meant that his views on the subject were publicly available, which was strictly against the rules of the collective bargaining agreement.
Mark Cuban Gets His Own Section?
Yes. Mark Cuban gets his own section. The chart below should clarify why.
As you can see, Mr. Cuban has been fined quite a bit over the course of his tenure as owner of the Mavericks. $1,840,000 to be exact. That’s roughly 10% of the total amount of money fined in the NBA since 2000, the year he joined the league. Cuban is the most fined individual in the history of the NBA by number (19) and by amount ($1,840,000). No one even comes close to the dollar amount of his fines, and only Shaquille O’Neal comes close to matching his total number of fines with 18.
Cuban has incurred:
- 6 fines of $100,000 (Rest of league: 7)
- 2 fines of $250,000 (Rest of league: 3)
- 1 $500,000 fine (Rest of league: 4)
Between November of 2000 and January of 2004, Cuban was the only NBA owner to receive a fine. In total, he received ten fines for a sum of $1,115,000. John Paxson interrupted Cuban’s hot streak with a $15,000 fine for criticizing the refs in 2006, then Cuban received three more uninterrupted fines totaling $450,000, all in 2006.
The one $500,000 fine he has earned is not only the largest in his portfolio, but it is also my personal favorite. After the Mavericks lost to the San Antonio Spurs 105-103 in 2002, Cuban was upset because he thought he saw Spurs big man Tim Duncan get away with a few traveling violations. “It happened multiple times right in front of me and they didn’t do a thing,” said Cuban. He went on to criticize Ed Rush the League Director of Officials at the time.
This hilarious statement cost Cuban $500,000. Worth it.
Another one of my faves happened back in 2006, during the NBA Finals between the Mavericks and the Heat. After the Mavs lost Game 5 by a single point, Mark went into a bit of a frenzy. Reportedly, he turned to David Stern, who was sitting in the stands with some other league officials and shouted “Fuck you! Fuck you! Your league is rigged!” He received a $250,000 fine for the incident. Later on, Cuban denied saying those things, but I like to believe otherwise.
While Mark Cuban has probably been a thorn in the side of the NBA on several occasions, he has definitely generated loads of publicity for the league, and he does something special with his wealth each time he is fined. According to Cuban, he matches every fine he receives dollar for dollar to a charity of his choosing. That means that in addition to the massive donations Cuban already makes, he has donated nearly $2 million just matching the fines he has received from the NBA. Cuban may at times exhibit “behavior unbecoming of an owner” ($100,000 – 2001), but he is doing great things with his fortune.
Do They Even Notice?
NBA Fines are truly massive. The average of all the fines in our data set is $33,689. For many people, that is a year’s salary. How do these comparatively huge fines affect their recipients? Consider the following.
Our Approximate Givens:
- There are 375 active players in the NBA at any moment.
- The average fine amount is $33,689.
- The average NBA salary is $5,150,000.
All players being equal, let’s say one receives a fine for $33,689 over the course of his six-year career. That $33,689 fine would eliminate a whopping .109% of his six-year income.
Now let’s say that same player was fined $1 million over the course of his career. He would miss out on no more than 3.24% of his six-year income due to the fine. For the record, no player has ever even accumulated $1 million in fines over the course of his entire career.
To put this in perspective, a $5,000 fine on LeBron James is the equivalent of an average earner in the U.S. dropping $6.25 out the window of his car.
In short, the answer is no. Players do not notice the fines. If they are not bothered by the fines, what’s the point of handing them out?
Where Does the Money Go?
NBA fines against players, coaches, teams and owners total nearly $12 million since 2003. That is a big chunk of change, and one that should not be ignored. Where does all that money go? Into David Stern’s pocket? To NBA Cares or other charities?
The truth in the case of the NBA is that common folks like you or me may never know with 100% certainty. The quick and easy answer is that the NBA donates fines to charities. But not so fast. Of the four major sports leagues (NBA, NFL, MLB and NHL) the NBA is the only one that does not publicly share the charitable organizations to which it donates fine money.
When a fine is served, the money is split evenly between the NBA and the National Basketball Players Association (NBPA). After this split, each organization donates its portion to a charity of their choosing. However, by refusing to announce to which charity the money goes, the validity of this system is frankly unknown.
In addition to not announcing the charities to which player fines are donated, there is another variable that further complicates this issue. According to a former league spokesman, there is no rule defining where fines against teams, owners or refs must go. That means that the $3.5 million fine against the Timberwolves and the $1.8 million in fines from Mark Cuban could simply be lining David Stern’s pockets. Since the NBA doesn’t formally announce where any of this money goes, there’s no way to prove the NBA’s claims that the money goes to charity. That being said, I am inclined to trust the NBA on this matter, believing that they are donating the money to a good cause, but the case for skepticism is there.
In total the NBA has donated $12 million+ in fines, plus an additional estimated $50 million+ in surrendered wages from suspensions to charity since 2003. To date, NBA Cares, the league’s own charitable organization started in 2005, has donated more than $210 million to charity. That’s nearly three times the amount donated from fines. Wherever the specific money from fines may go, it is clear that the NBA is at least donating a healthy amount to a good cause each year.
The raw data for this piece is available for download by clicking one of the two buttons below.
Written By: Andrew Powell-Morse
Graphic Design: Christopher Mathews