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Donovan Mitchell Was Not Thrilled With Dillon Brooks Boinking His Junk

Dillon Brooks and Donovan Mitchell exchange shoves.
Jason Miller/Getty Images

Dillon Brooks of the Memphis Grizzlies is someone that I would not like to fight. For one thing he's very large and solid, whereas I am comparatively shrimpy and distinctly blogger-shaped. For another, Brooks plays a notoriously brutal, physically punishing type of basketball, which suggests both that he is comfortable with (or perhaps even insensitive to) pain, and that he is maybe not-so-secretly spoiling for a fight, eagerly hoping that one of his bulldozing drives or bad-intentioned fouls will goad some poor sucker into taking a swing at him. It's wise to be wary of anyone who seems to want to be punched, especially if that person's frame is hung with 250 pounds of chiseled muscle. That Brooks is rarely involved in tussles, despite spending portions of every game seeking to physically annihilate his opponents, only supports my theory: Even huge NBA players require extreme forms of provocation before they will attempt to engage this man in hand-to-hand combat.

Thursday night, in Cleveland, Brooks responded to having his third-quarter layup attempt blocked at the rim by targeting a punch at the groin of Donovan Mitchell. There's plausibly basketball-like provocation—the bruising and often egregious shoulders-and-elbows stuff that Brooks and others deploy often but that very seldom leads to fights during NBA games—and then there's hauling off and throwing a spinning back fist into the nearest guy's dick and balls. Mitchell, who developed a distaste for Brooks's style when the two shared a conference, immediately retaliated, hurling the basketball at Brooks, shoving him with both hands, and then sort of tossing him to the floor, aided by a heroic Grizzlies trainer who threw himself bodily into the action before any punches could be thrown.

A very funny part of watching this live was Kevin Harlan providing an improvised sound effect—"BOINK"—for a replay of Brooks's fist connecting with Mitchell junk. Both Brooks and Mitchell were soon ejected, Brooks for the crotch-punch and Mitchell for spiking the ball at Brooks in retaliation. The Cavs, and guard Darius Garland in particular, seemed energized and motivated following the ejections; the Grizzlies, already down Steven Adams and Jaren Jackson Jr. due to injuries, quickly fell behind by double digits and eventually lost, 128–113.

To hear Mitchell tell it after the game, the direct confrontation was the culmination of years of increasing animosity between the two players. "That's just who he is," explained a very frank Mitchell from the postgame lectern. "We've seen it a bunch in this league with him. He and I have had our personal battles for years—quite frankly, I've been busting his ass for years, playoffs and regular season—and the one game he does an alright job on me, today, he decided to do something like that ... This has been brewing for years."

Head coach J.B. Bickerstaff was similarly blunt. "That was a cheap shot in multiple ways," he said after the game. "We don't have those guys that start shit, but we have guys who don't run from shit, and you have to in this league. You have to stand up for yourself. That's what he did, and his teammates had his back."

Brooks will face additional punishment for the punch. The minimum fine for a Flagrant 2 foul is $2,000. But the NBA may aim higher, given Brooks's disciplinary record on the season: Brooks is second in the NBA in technical fouls (13), is tied for first in flagrant fouls (2), and this is his second ejection, tied with Malik Monk and Draymond Green for the most in the league. Mitchell, at least, would be in favor of the NBA using a heavier hand. "There should be something," he said Thursday. "This isn't just a Donovan thing. This has happened to other players throughout this league, and it's bullshit, if I'm being honest with you. It's complete bullshit."

In a very funny twist, it is the opinion of Dillon Brooks that actually the NBA is treating him unfairly. Brooks declined to speak at all about the sequence with Mitchell, but back on Jan. 23, after he was assessed a flagrant foul for backhanding the face of Suns forward Cameron Johnson, he complained that officials are picking on him. "Can't play my game. Not letting me play physical enough" Brooks lamented after that Suns game, about officials whistling him for unnecessary contact for whacking an opponent in the face with his hand, while not making a play on the ball. "It's every night, and I don't appreciate it."

Every team and every player in professional sports falls into this kind of persecution complex about officiating from time to time, but it's especially funny to hear it from a player with such a well-earned reputation among his peers for cheap-shot artistry. It's a lot easier for the refs to let you play your game when your game does not so often involve punching or karate-chopping or otherwise unnecessarily striking the tender parts of your poor battered opponents.

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