Phantom Net defender pokes Redd in eye

While Muhammad Ali has claimed he hit Sonny Liston so fast and so quick that the cameras missed the punch, the pictures do tell us that Ali’s right cross was right at Sonny’s face when Liston went down.

The film crews at the Bradley Center, however, faithfully trained to the ball and Michael Redd as Redd drove past one Net and into another on his way to the basket in the fourth quarter Saturday night, were unable to find a hand anywhere near Redd’s face on the play. Yet somehow he crumbled to the floor clutching his eye and left the game whincing as though one of Nets had stuck his finger in it.

The guy sitting next to me at the bar where we had negotiated a switch to the Bucks telecast (yes, Bucks fans often have to negotiate to get the game on the toob at many local establishments these days), saw it too. I should say, he didn’t see what I didn’t see. If you watched the game, you probably didn’t see it either.

A little while later, I met up with a friend who had also watched the FSN broadcast, and when I mentioned the play, she was already ahead of me: “There was no hand anywhere near Redd’s face,” she said. I took this as evidence that I was not crazy or suffering from a hallucinatory form of Bucks fan depression. I realize that this may have been presumptuous on my part.   

I’ve seen NBA players fake the poked-in-the-eye injury before, but always to get a free time out — and most of that was years ago, before the rules committee added the 20-second time out. I recall Marques Johnson faking a charley horse to get a time out, and dribbling the ball off his foot and out of bounds at what always seemed like the most inopportune moments – no, I’m not suggesting it was ever intentional, really. 

I’ve seen plenty of other crazy things during Bucks games (we did have Sam Cassell for four-plus seasons). I once saw Ray Allen intentionally miss a free throw during a Bucks-Knicks game in 1998 so that he could glare at Tyrone Hill, who missed a lot of free throws. I was sitting behind the basket Ray was shooting at with my pal Nick, and turned to him and said, “Did Ray just miss that on purpose?” Yeah, he did. Then he did it again and said something nasty to Hill as they ran back on defense. (Yes, the Bucks did win the game and the festering chemistry problem was solved when George Karl traded Hill).

In Saturday’s game, the Bucks first in front of new GM John Hammond, there was no apparent strategic purpose to Redd’s flop, other than to get himself off the court. In the late 3rd and early 4th quarter, the Bucks had struggled to stay in the game, and with Redd on the bench, had pulled back to within seven points of the Nets with about seven minutes left to play.

Coach Krystkowiak had let Redd sit for a long stretch when the cameras finally panned over to the bench to find him, arms crossed and glowering at the court, upset about something or other. With the new GM on hand for the first time, Redd seemed to be pouting. I assumed he was upset because he wanted to be in the game.

A minute or so later, Krystkowiak sent Redd in, with plenty of time left to make a run at winning it (c’mon, it’s happened a few times this year). Moments later he was back on the bench, in agony over a poke in the eye that no one seemed to have seen. The Bucks broadcasters couldn’t find the source of the injury but just let it go. No comment.

“It didn’t seem like he had the usual energy level,” Milwaukee coach Larry Krystkowiak said of Redd in the AP game story. That’s pretty bad timing, considering it was Hammond’s first game as GM, and that Redd has the captain’s C stitched to his jersey.

We can only speculate on whether Hammond will try to trade Redd in the offseason. He’s indicated that he’ll explore every way possible to make the team better. He did say “yes” when a reporter asked him Saturday if he considered Redd a cornerstone, but what’s he supposed to say? “No” on his first day, before he’s even met with Krystkowiak? Who asked that question, anyway? As far as reporters tricks go, not too sneaky.

If Redd does want to stay in Milwaukee, as he’s said, he had better hope Hammond was in the men’s room when the phantom poked him in the eye. Or that the culprit magically materializes. If not, the new GM just might begin to ask a few questions about the leadership methods of his team captain, if he hasn’t already.

From the angle I saw, the leading suspect in the eye-poking incident may in fact be the captain’s “C” on Redd’s jersey. It had a guilty look about it as Redd rushed himself and it back to the bench.

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