The Fairly Detached Observers
Artie: Hey Frank, the NBAâis pro wrestlingâs Vince McMahon the shadow commissioner of this league? Shouldnât it be the WWNBA? I donât want to say the games may have a predicted outcome that the league favors, but how far away are we from the players wearing capes and masks and putting a choke-hold on the opposing point guard when the refâs back is turned?
know, it seems that for decades there have been these rumblings that
âthe league really wantsâ this or that to happen in the
playoffsâcertainly since they started getting the big TV contracts. I
suppose thatâs true of any pro sport, but it seems pretty common in the
NBAâthe idea that theyâd prefer not to have San Antonio in the finals,
or Detroit or Indiana, because they donât have a big enough TV market or enough of a national following.
Artie: Or the Bucks in the 2001 Eastern Conference Finals versus Philly?
Frank: Now, David Stern didnât have anything to do with Glenn Robinson missing that short shot that would have won Game 5.
Artie: Something fishy about that series, 11 technical fouls called on the Bucks, and two on the Sixers? And Game 7, wasnât there a foul disparity...
Frank: Gosh, was there a foul disparity in an NBA game? I found it very interesting that when Tim Donaghy said his fellow refs essentially gave the Lakers that Game 6 over Sacramento in 2002, all the writers who covered that game said, âYou know, we really thought there was something really bad about the officiating that night.â That doesnât prove anything, but it does say the game stood out. And just today I saw something about how one of the refs from that night, Dick Bavetta, was the subject of questions even during the inquiry about Donaghy.
Now everybodyâs saying there has to be an independent investigation, or that the refs should be under some organization separate from the NBA. Iâm not sure that would prevent any pressure from gambling interests.
Artie: But it seems to be the most talked-about solution. Whatâs the situation with baseball umpires?
all under Major League jurisdiction, and itâs the same for the NFL and
NHL. Are people suggesting that there should be an entity that
encompasses all pro sports,
and chooses and monitors all officials? Even if there were such a
thing, if youâre an NBA official youâd know what matchups the league
would prefer. Youâd know that under any circumstances the league would
prefer a Game 7.
Artie: No doubt, basketballâs a difficult game to referee, and foul calls are subjective. But the suspicion of unfairness is a real problem. And the NBA is not alone.
Frank: There are good examples of that in one of your favorite sports.
Artie: Beer pong?
Frank: Soccer, my friend. In Germany
three years ago, they learned that matches had been fixed in the
second-highest national league. Gamblers had gotten to some referees,
who did things like calling penalty kicks that decided games. And in
2006 in Italy, there was something even worse.
Officials of some of the top teams in the No. 1 Italian league, like Juventus and A.C. Milan, got together with league officials about choosing the referees for matches, and thereby influencing the outcomes. This was absolutely huge, but eventually the punishments were relatively light, and now things are pretty much back the way they were. I think everyone said, âWell, match fixing is bad, but we have a lot of fans and a lot of money to make.â That scandal was pretty much the kind of thing the NBA is being suspected of.
Artie: So is Mr. Senator Arlen Specter going to kibosh his NFL âspygateâ thing and focus on the NBA? Or heaven forbid, oil company gas-price fixing?
heard someone suggest that if the 76ers were involved, Sen. Specter
would be all over it. But heâs more of an Eagles guy right now. As for
the NFL, this thing with Bill Belichick shows that every sport has its
own little netherworld of wrongdoing. To say nothing of drugs: Youâve
got baseball, track and field, cycling. And in what might have a little
implication for the NBA, a lot of these drug things started out with
people saying the accusers were tainted and couldnât be trusted.
Artie: Just as the subtle Stern does with Donaghy, and tosses âfelonâ into the discussion every other word.
baseball with Jose Canseco. Heâs kind of a joke because heâs an
admitted steroid user, but a lot of what he said has turned out to be
either true or assumed to be true. Certainly Congress assumed it, and
thatâs what forced action to be taken.
Artie: They say Donaghyâs supposed bean-spilling is just a shot at a lighter sentence, but that doesnât mean what he says canât be true.
Frank: In track and field, you had this Victor Conte guy who was the head of BALCO...
Artie: He used to be in that â70s band Tower of Power, ainâa? What a careerâfrom playing bass on a soul-funk tune like âWhat is Hip?â to selling a Broadway show tune like âOn A Clear Day, You Can Hit Forever.â
he started naming names, Conte tried to morph into the good guy by
saying, âIâm just telling you this because Iâm trying to clean up the
sportââthe one heâd dirtied up. Marion Jones spent two or three years
saying, âDonât believe him; believe me.â And then sheâs in front of the
courthouse with tears in her eyes saying, âI lied.â
And the guy whoâs accusing Roger Clemens, yeah, heâs no saint, but he looks a little more credible the more that comes out of Clemensâ mouth.
whatâs this about Roger Clemens taking Viagra âcause itâs supposed to
help make the steroids more effective? Man oh manischewitz, when they
say Clemens had the best âhigh, hard oneâ in baseball, theyâre not just
Frank: As you would say, ba-ding! So getting back to the NBA...
the ref controversy. They have to do something. What it is, I donât
know. Any way you look at it, their credibilityâs in trouble. Take Game
4 of these finals, with the Celtics coming back from that huge deficit,
and although the free-throw totals were pretty equalâeven that could be
questioned with the suspicion that the refs bent over backward...
Frank: As you said earlier, itâs an impossible game to call. Theyâre wrestling each other on every possession, not to mention traveling on every possession and palming on every possession.
James, anyone? When you check an NBA box score the âMPâ stat refers to
âMinutes Played,â but for LeBron âMPâ refers to âMiles Palmed.â
Frank: Now hereâs a little offshoot of this. Everybody whines about the officiating anyway...
Artie: The coaches, the players, the fansâŚ
Frank: Absolutely. Phil Jacksonâs complaining is one of the leagueâs great traditions. Because heâs the âZen master,â that takes on some higher purpose or something. But heâs just doing what Red Auerbach did, what they all do.
Artie: Yeah yeah, Philâs Zen thing: âWhat is the sound of no whistle blowingâon my team.â
Frank: But hereâs something very interesting: Everybody laughs at Mark Cuban and what a nut job he is as the owner of the Mavericks, complaining about every call. But this week I see the headline, âCuban Sets Sights on Buying Cubs.â
Artie: And if his bid falls short, youâll read the headline: âClose, but no Cuban cigar,â ainâa?
imagine Mark Cuban sitting in the first row at beautiful Wrigley Field
watching, what, 260 or 270 pitches every game? And then the calls on
the bases. This opens up the mother lode for complaining! But it will
be a great new source of revenue for Bud Selig.
Artie: All those fines, you betcha.
Frank: The NBA made millions over the years from this guy. Now, Bud probably isnât as accustomed to leveling these big fines as David Stern is.
Artie: Imagine that. A former used-car salesman able to fine someone for complaining.
Talk about newsworthy. Thatâs entering the realm of âMan Bites Dog,â donât you think?
Frank Clines labored almost 20 years in the sports department at the Milwaukee Journal and Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, and covered the Brewers part-time for most of those years. Art Kumbalek remains in the race for the presidency of the United States.