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To the detriment of almost everyone involved, the NFL has attempted to legislate taunting out of football.
Surely a basketball court is still a safe space for some harmless gloating. It wasn't in Detroit on Sunday. Pistons rookie Cade Cunningham found out the hard way.
Cunningham beat Cameron Payne off the baseline and sent home a reverse slam over the Phoenix Suns guard during the third quarter of Sunday's Pistons-Suns game. To ensure that everyone was clear about who just got dunked on, Cunningham briefly pointed at Payne before running back on defense.
Before the Suns could get their offense over halfcourt, a whistle blew.
— Bally Sports Detroit (@BallySportsDET) January 16, 2022
Cunningham's taunt drew the ire of the officiating crew in the form of a technical foul. Since it was his second technical of the game, Cunningham's day was over via ejection. After the game, officiating crew chief Kevin Cutler confirmed that Cunningham was assessed a technical "for a physical taunt for pointing at the defender.”
— Vincent Goodwill (@VinceGoodwill) January 16, 2022
Like with most of the NFL's taunting flags, almost everyone involved was worse off for the call.
Who benefits from this?
Pistons fans who spent their money and their Sunday afternoon on NBA basketball lost the last best reason to stick around for the fourth quarter of what was then a 20-point game in favor of the road team. Cunningham was the No. 1 pick in July's draft and arguably the only reason to tune in or show up to watch the Pistons, who are otherwise in the throes of a miserable season.
Players don't want this. The Suns were content to respond with offense, not with fisticuffs. Whatever imagined retaliation the NBA intends to prevent with such a whistle is strictly that — imagined. This is basketball. Players dunk. Players talk trash. Nobody gets hurt.
But the Pistons, their fans and the NBA all suffered Sunday thanks to an official with a quick whistle.