Sports are incredible because they really bring out the best and worst of people. Like real-life, sports have individuals with good intent and bad intent — which can all be exposed if pressure and tension in a game is high. Sports can draw real desperation from players — a desperation to make their troubles go away that are preventing their team from winning. This may cause players to play dirty, in an effort to eliminate an opponent from competition, no matter the cost.
Zaza Pachulia has been given accusations that claim he is a dirty player. These have particularly came from two people: Russell Westbrook and Gregg Popovich. Westbrook had a couple of occasions in which he claims Pachulia did him dirty: the first being when Westbrook came off a screen and ran right into Pachulia, falling on the floor, and then Pachulia stood over him. The second was one time where it seemed as if Pachulia intentionally landed on Westbrook’s knee with all his weight.
The root of Gregg Popovich’s frustration came from multiple altercations with Spurs players. In one event, Pachulia got wrapped up with Kawhi Leonard and held his arm — not letting him move or escape. Another, while he was still with the Dallas Mavericks, was when Pachulia and Danny Green went chasing after a loose ball. In this instance, Pachulia dove and then seemed to intentionally kick Danny Green in the face. In another instance, Pachulia pump faked on David West and completely elbowed him in the face. But, by far, the most infamous of all the ‘dirty’ plays on the Spurs was when he jumped up in efforts to contest one of Kawhi Leonard’s fadeaways and extended his foot into Leonard’s landing space — forcing his foot under Kawhi’s, reaggravating Leonard’s ankle injury. Tensions were already high because this was the 2017 Western Conference Finals. But because the Warriors were already so poised to win he series, it is hard to pinpoint any bad intent or evil motive to that moment. However, it does not mean that Pachulia is completely innocent.
Personally, I do not believe that Zaza Pachulia is a ‘dirty’ player. At least, not in the situations above (the other situations where he intentionally punched people are a completely different story). He has shown to have visible angered emotions on the court, but not always in a dirty fashion.
In my opinion, most of the ‘dirty plays’ that Pachulia had can be pinpointed to his horrific coordination. His terrible footwork could have even been the reason why Kawhi reaggravated his ankle injury.
It’s also important to consider that emotions are like dominoes in the game of basketball. For example, when Zaza Pachulia jumped for the loose ball and fell, his feet might have went in the air inadvertently. Even though it might have been inadvertent, Danny Green could have been the first one to get mad. After Green got mad, Pachulia could’ve got mad and then all bets were off. But in that moment, it seemed like Pachulia’s actions were not necessarily ‘dirty’ based on motive, rather on accident. All in all, it truly depends on what your definition is of a ‘dirty player’. Is it someone who has intent to harm others? Is it someone who doesn’t have the intent to harm others? Or does intent not even matter?
When all is said and done, Pachulia has made some pretty-bad mistakes in his career on the court. But that doesn’t quite make him a dirty player in my book. At least not yet.