Commentary

Whistled while they worked

Jawing with five oft-penalized jocks and one heavily fined owner

Originally Published: May 18, 2011
By Kenny Mayne | ESPN The Magazine

Michael Marsicano for ESPN The Magazine

Kenny Mayne, ESPN anchor
Received 10-year ban from ESPYs after going off-script during the 1999 awards show to protest forced participation in a lame skit.

So, you're a troublemaker. Fouls, penalties, fines ... you have a lot. Why?

Monique Currie, Mystics forward
During 2010 season, led the WNBA in personal fouls (120), tied for second in personal fouls per game, notched one flagrant foul.

My dad always told me, "You have fouls, so use them." Now I like to have numbers in all the columns on the stat sheet.

Zenon Konopka, Islanders center
During 2010-11 regular season, led the NHL in penalty minutes (307) and misconducts (10); ranked second in majors (25).

For me, it's a matter of making sure the skill players on my team are comfortable. If something happens to them during a game and there are no repercussions for the other team, people will say, "Why didn't you take care of business?"

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Currie: I don't believe in soft fouls. I want the person to be thinking twice the next time they drive. I don't try to hurt anyone, but I want to make sure they feel me there.

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Konopka: The thing casual fans don't understand is that we're not jumping onto the ice and trying to grab someone to bash his brains in. It's all in the interest of helping our team win games -- and sometimes that means waiting. Instead of retaliating in the third period of a 1-1 game, you might wait until the next time you play them. But you need to send the message: Remember last game, when you hit John Tavares? You're not going to get away with it.

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Mayne: Do you think you have a bad reputation with officials?

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Mark Cuban, Mavericks owner
During his 12 seasons in the NBA, slapped with more than a dozen fines, totaling in excess of $1.5 million.

Eight years ago it felt like I was getting fined every other week. I could say, "The sky is blue" and they'd say, "F--- you, that's 25 grand." They were trying to beat me into submission. It just made me madder.

Jared Allen, Vikings defensive end
In 2008, incurred four fines in a six-game stretch for roughing two QBs, piling on a running back and performing CPR on a football.

I had to visit the commissioner's office in 2008 because I got too many penalties. They were threatening to suspend me.

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Mayne: What did you do wrong?

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Allen: I hit Aaron Rodgers in the head. And I hit Matt Schaub in the knee. Twice.

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Mayne: Did Aaron deserve it?

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Allen: They all deserve it, but I guess it was quote-unquote illegal.

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Mayne: What was the worst fine you ever got?

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Allen: Back in '08 I racked up something like $90,000 in fines.

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Mayne: Were you proud of yourself?

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Allen: Not really, because I didn't get to decide where the money went. Other than that, absolutely.

Cuban: It's not that they're fining us. It's that the money could go to a better place than the David Stern Doughnut Fund.

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Mayne: You probably have a lot of favorites, but does any fine stick out in your mind?

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Cuban: I got one for "conduct unbecoming to an owner." We were playing the Wolves my second year, and I wanted to send a message to our trainers and the guys who worked our games that they could approach me, that I'm not some stuffy suit. During games those guys all sit on the floor and get up to pick up jerseys and such. So that game, I sat on the floor with them. I got a call the next day saying, "That's unbecoming to an owner. We're going to fine you 100 grand." The league didn't appreciate it.

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Mayne: What if you wore cutoff jeans and a T-shirt that said, "Legalize it"?

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Cuban: That would be okay, because it wouldn't violate the NBA's drug policy. Now, if I had a mullet to go with it, they might get upset.

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Mayne: Jared, what did you wear when you talked to the commissioner? A suit? Or a jeans jacket with fur on the neckline?

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Allen: Actually, I've been to Roger Goodell's office a couple times. Once I wore a suit. The second time, I didn't give him the respect of a suit because I didn't think I deserved to be there. I just wore jeans and a T-shirt. I could tell that they weren't too pleased by the way they rolled their eyes. Then I'm sure they IM'd each other frowny faces.

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Mayne: For a "menace," you seem to be good-natured.

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Currie: I'm different on the court. I'm not smiling. I'm trying to do my job.

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Allen: I mean, I'm not into beating up women or pointing guns at people.

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Konopka:I take pride in the fact that I don't often put my team at a disadvantage. As intense as hockey gets, everything I do is calculated -- and it works.

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Mayne: But because of that enforcer attitude, is it a situation where refs now think, Here comes that guy -- let's see what we can penalize him for?

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Konopka: Possibly. Whether fair or not, when I get on the ice, there's a target on me.

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Mayne: Do you think games are called too tight?

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Joel Lindpere, Red Bulls midfielder
During 2010 regular season, ranked fourth in MLS in fouls committed (45); received three cautions.

Sometimes I look at other leagues and see that they let players play more than MLS does. I understand that they're trying to protect our players, but Europe does have a faster game with fewer fouls. It's not stop-stop-stop, like the last minutes in basketball.

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DeMarcus Cousins, Kings center
During 2010-11 regular season, led the NBA in total personal fouls (332), personal fouls per game (4.1) and ejections (3).

It can be hard to understand the refs' limits. So many times I play in a way that avoids fouls, and that means I'm not being as aggressive.

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Mayne: When I was in fourth grade, I filled in on my friend Brian Foltz's intramural basketball team when they were a man short. Afterward, I remember proudly saying to the coach, "Hey, I had no fouls." He responded, "That means you weren't aggressive enough." Say we were reviewing 10 fouls you committed. What percentage would have been legitimate, with you being too aggressive, as opposed to guys flopping?

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Cousins: I'd say about 30 to 40 percent are me being too aggressive.

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Mayne: So there's a lot of acting going on in the NBA. That same thing drove me nuts during the last World Cup -- guys falling down and pretending they were fouled.

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Lindpere: Well, sometimes you have to do it, because the referees have the wrong angle. But if it's an obvious fake foul, people will see it. We don't have replay, which adds to the beauty of the game, but guys will see it on highlights afterward and be embarrassed.

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Cousins: There's really no way of preventing yourself from getting a foul from guys flopping. The guys who do it most -- Manu Ginobili, Pau Gasol, Kevin Martin -- have perfected it.

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Mayne: But you've earned a few technicals for arguing fouls you must have thought you didn't commit. What do you say that sets off the refs?

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Cousins: Most of the time it's not even saying something. It's slapping your hands or even just a facial expression. Body language.

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Lindpere: I've said stupid things. The ref may have made a mistake, but then I make one by cursing him out. I'll realize right away it wasn't the right thing to do, but it's part of the game. You have a lot of emotion.

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Currie: I frown. It's my disgruntled face. I let the refs know I'm not pleased.

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Mayne: Do your parents ever call and say, "The way you frowned at the ref was inappropriate"?

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Currie: My mom calls me regularly to tell me I need to smile more.

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Mayne: Ever tried having a civilized conversation with the refs? Calmly stating your case?

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Currie: All the time. I know their names, so I'll say something like, "Cameron, you know that wasn't a foul. You owe me one next time down." They just smile and nod.

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Lindpere: I've had referees come up and talk with me. It calms me down a bit. Of course, I'll tell him the same thing -- that he should call a penalty against the other team to make things even -- and they never do. Then I don't want to talk to them anymore.

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Mayne: That brings up a good point. You're emotional. That's an asset during games, but does it ever present a problem in real life? Even something as simple as idiots in a bar trying to start a fight?

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Konopka: When I was 18, I'd react differently than I do at 30. The more confidence you have in what you do, the less you have to prove, and the less you'll react to incidents like that. Plus, having been in fights on the ice, I'm far more levelheaded when people are trying to provoke me. If that's a new situation for someone, they might be more panicky and react poorly.

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Mayne: Have you at any time during this interview felt like punching me?

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Konopka: Absolutely not. We're trying to gain a rep on ESPN for hockey, not lose it.

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Mayne: Are you worried about fallout because you spoke candidly about referees?

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Lindpere: No. I think they'll get where I'm coming from.

Cuban: There's always a risk of my getting fined. But in this case there's no solid ground.

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Mayne: What if in the transactions it said, "Mark Cuban fined $100,000 for talking to that bastard Kenny Mayne from Seattle, the city we stripped of a franchise"?

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Cuban: That would be money well spent.

Kenny Mayne

Anchor/Reporter
Kenny Mayne -- known for his offbeat style, dry humor and unique sayings -- has served a variety of roles in more than 10 years with ESPN. He currently provides features to SportsCenter and "The Mayne Event" segments to Sunday NFL Countdown.