His name matters less than what he did and who he plays for and how that team- the Boston Celtics- have to pay Jabari Bird a little bit more than a million dollars. The Celtics drafted a player who tried to kill someone. It is that simple. It is also a cold dose of reality that the game of professional basketball is a collection of human people, a shape shifting society that includes many good and a few evil. There is Tim Duncan who assisted his homeland of St. Croix deal with hurricane scarcity and there is Javaris Crittendon who murdered a young mother. There is LeBron James who opened a school for the forgotten and left behind and there is Jabari Bird who nearly killed someone.
The crime is contemptuous. And vicious. And immoral. By the grace of God a woman is not dead. But not dead does not mean not traumatized.
According to Boston prosecutors, Bird strangled his girlfriend an estimated dozen times in the span of four hours. Choking her wasn’t enough. He also threw her against the wall, kicked her in the stomach and when she tried to leave he dragged her from the door, keeping her a captive participant to his violent rage. It was only after Bird passed out because of seizures that she escaped.
At his arraignment, he pleaded not guilty to assault and battery with a dangerous weapon, assault and battery of a family or household member, kidnapping and strangulation.
As for Bird, he is copping to the “there are two sides to every situation” defense. Yeah. In this case, one side had the crap beaten out of her. Expect Bird to rationalize that a pre-existing medical condition created a fugue where he was unaware of his actions. In other words, he is the victim.
His statement via his lawyer reads like he is taking a sabbatical or a leave of absence based on his own reflection. “I’m taking some time away from the team as I deal with my legal and medical issues.” No, not really. He strangled the crap out of someone and the NBA and his employers are washing their hands of him because he doesn’t matter to them.
The most insulting part of the lawyer written statement was when he called his abuse “a distraction.” No. It’s not a distraction. It is a reminder that domestic violence crosses all boundaries of man. A job as coveted as professional athlete doesn’t create an immunity for pathologically violent behavior.
Towards the end of his statement Bird says he does not condone violence against women. I’ll give him the benefit of doubt. He probably doesn’t condone women being on the precipice of death. But what you believe and how you behave are often mutually exclusive, not linked in a parallel universe.
Basically, Bird is saying via his statement the victim is lying. It’s a traditional, albeit pathetic, response when accountability is off the table.
Jabari Bird was signed in 2017 to a two way contract. He was a second round draft pick, a shooting guard who was signed this summer to the active roster. Guaranteed salary was his reward. Naturally, the Celtics want to extricate themselves, not just from Bird but from having to pay him.
During the tenure of former commissioner David Stern, the accused- domestic violence or anything else- had to be convicted first before the league handed down any kind of punishment. But Adam Silver changed that rule and for good reason. The league’s image is at stake. Trials can take a year. Silver now has the discretion to suspend a player before a verdict is rendered, before a jury is seated, before a plea is negotiated. It gives the league control when rogue players do the unthinkable.
Because the NBA is a collection of men from various backgrounds and with different moral compases and behaviors, we have been here before.
When he was a member of the Sacramento Kings, point guard Darren Collison was arrested on charges of domestic violence and was suspended 8 games after a plea was negotiated. Despite Collison’s apology to his wife, team and league, Jeff Van Gundy was livid at the lenient punishment. A woman is beaten by a partner every 9 seconds and all the league could come up with was 8 games?
It is not a mistake. It’s a choice. It ‘s a choice to commit a violent act. We have to do more. (Jeff Van Gundy.)
What Jeff Van Gundy wanted was a mandatory one year suspension for domestic violence guilty pleas. It sounds good but violence is pernicious and layered. All of it is learned behavior, the inability to manage conflict without a physical response.
Jabari Bird’s case is the extreme and the NBA and the Celtics will quickly extricate themselves from him in a quickie divorce and at the end of the day no one will shed a tear if he is indeed locked up. But he is unique, not the domestic violence norm.
Cyclical acts of violence in private spaces that don’t make the news and that no one ever sees because it is behind closed doors and victims are terrified of saying anything that would jeopardize the livelihood of the man they love and the father of their children make up most of the domestic violence cases. Frankly, it is a crime that survives in isolation and in privacy. It is those domestic violence victims that Adam Silver needs to craft a policy around, not the Jabari Birds of the world who are egregious examples of privilege, rage and torture, and who will be punished by the judicial system while simultaneously shamed by the public at large.