Reid Fischer's World of Rants

Looking at the sports world through orange colored glasses

Is the NBA’s Image in Jeopardy?

Posted by mizzou1028 on June 13, 2008

For a variety of reasons my interest in the NBA has gradually waned over the last few years.  There have been several recent NBA Finals where I watched little to none of the action, including last year’s Spurs-Cavaliers series.  This year I have to admit I have watched at least 90 percent of the series so far between the Lakers and Celtics.  I even have to admit that last night’s game four was an absolute thriller, with the Celtics erasing a 24 point deficit to win at the Staples Center.  During this series, and even during the regular season this year, I have started to see something that the league had been missing: real, genuine defense.  Make no mistake about it, it was the Celtics intensity on defense that allowed them to make that comeback.  As excited as I am to see at least some semblance of defense return to the NBA, my increased interest may be short lived if it turns out that ex-referee Tim Donaghy is even remotely accurate in his allegations against the league. 

For those of you who don’t know about Tim Donaghy, here is the background.  In a nutshell, he has basically admitted that he wagered on games that he officiated.  As if that’s not bad enough that a referee would actually wager on a game he’s working (no conflict of interest there!), check this out.  If his suggestion that the league was going to any lengths to make sure a series got extended to seven games, or (gasp!) make sure No. 2 TV market Los Angeles would be in the finals instead of Sacramento, well there would be zero difference between the NBA and the WWE.  If, and I emphasis IF, for there is no proof yet, the NBA has truly made any attempt to fix even one game, ever, than there is absolutely nothing legit about the league.  While Donaghy’s official letter doesn’t specifically mention any games, it’s not difficult at all to deduce that he’s referring to the Lakers-Kings series in 2002, and specifically game six of the series, won by the Lakers 106-102.  Sacramento fans are still fired up over mention of that game, which had the Kings won would have earned them their first ever trip to the NBA Finals.  This video courtesy of KOVR TV in Sacramento shows why: Check out Mike Bibby getting elbowed in the face by Kobe Bryant without a call.  Just the fact that the Lakers shot 27 free throws in the fourth quarter alone is enough to make you go hmmm…..was something out of whack here?  For years there has been a belief that stars get preferential treatment from the league, but even with that consideration it seems ridiculous that Shaquille O’Neal would get called for just four fouls (especially after seeing some highlights of his action in the paint that night) while those guarding him (Vlade Divac, Scot Pollard, Chris Webber and Lawrence Funderburke) got called for a combined 20. 

There is another game that I recall vividly that looking back may have been the beginning of my gradually waning NBA interest: game six of the 1998 Finals between the Bulls and Jazz, won by Chicago 98-97 for their sixth title in eight seasons.  This game is famous for Michael Jordan’s winning shot which turned out to be his last as a Bull.  Thing is, Jordan clearly pushed off on the play.  The video is a little grainy, but you can see for yourself his push off on Bryon Russell here.  Now, I am generally for refs swallowing their whistles at the end of a game and allowing players to decide things, but this was a very blatant push off and gave Jordan a tremendous advantage.  That aside, there were two other plays in that game that at the very least can be described as referee incompetence, and at worst a blatant attempt to slant the game in favor of Chicago.  The first was a 3 pointer by Utah’s Howard Eisley in the second quarter that clearly beat the shot clock but was waved off by referee Dick Bavetta.  (Is it a coincidence that Bavetta is named by Donaghy in his written statement in regards to the Lakers-Kings game? Maybe, maybe not).  Had the three counted, Utah would have taken a seven point lead.  Instead the Jazz were up four.  Fast forward to the fourth quarter, Jazz up 79-77, and this time it’s Chicago’s Ron Harper that beats the shot clock with a jumper.  Or did he?  The replay clearly shows the ball still Harper’s hand with the shot clock at :00, and yet this time the refs count the basket.  So, the game at this point is tied at 79 with roughly four minutes to go, where the Jazz should have been up by five (assuming they count Eisley’s three and disallow Harper’s jumper).  Had these calls been correct the game would never have come down to Jordan’s shot at the end.  Full disclosure: I was rooting for the Jazz, mainly because I wanted to see Karl Malone and John Stockton win a title together, but I also generally root for the underdog if my favorite team is out.  That being said, I clearly felt the referees stole that game from the Jazz, and maybe the series.  Utah would have had home court advantage for game seven.  In this case, we’re not talking about subjective foul calls, we’re talking about whether or not a shot beat the shot clock and should have counted or not.  There shouldn’t be anything subjective whatsoever about that. 

Now, all this being said it does go with the territory that referee error is a part of sports and especially in the NBA, where definition of what is and isn’t a foul is subjective at best.  Then again, that’s probably what bothers me most about the NBA: it is obvious that games are not officiated the same in the fourth quarter as they are in the first quarter, and it is blatantly obvious that superstars do receive special treatment.  If, and again I emphasis IF, in fact it is true that there has even been the slightest attempt by the league or its officials to manipulate games, than the NBA will have been exposed as a complete joke in every way.  If, again keyword IF, the allegations by Tim Donaghy are somehow proven true, which will be certainly be difficult, you can mark it down that I will never watch an NBA game again, ever.  If it is true, and again the key word is IF, I would expect ESPN to dump the NBA like a hot potato, for if the NBA has indeed manipulated, or dare I say fixed games at any point, than there is no point in watching a game that is not legit.  Frankly, I have been skeptical about the league’s refereeing over the years but have yet to go as far as to say there was blatant game fixing.  It is still difficult to say definitely what indeed happened in these or any other games, but it is enough to be skeptical at the very least.  If Donaghy turns out to be right, well maybe there is still hope people will pay attention to another winter league that frankly is more exciting in just about every way: the NHL. 

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