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Earlier this week, former NBA referee Tim Donaghy released a four-page letter alleging that the NBA fixes games in playoffs and sometimes in the regular season. It should be observed at the start that Mr. Donaghy is hardly an objective witness in this matter, having admitted to gambling on NBA games he officiated. NBA Commissioner David Stern has pointed out that Donaghy could very well be trying to play for sympathy from the sentencing judge, or to make a deal with prosecutors. Also, as a group the referees of any professional league are a largely misunderstood group, who have to hustle just as hard as the athletes and who must be just as smart to what is going on, yet who never get paid even a fraction of the money made by just about everyone else in the sport. Ric Bucher of ESPN has a great article on just what it's like to be an NBA ref.

I do not believe Tim Donaghy's claims, frankly. Officiating is a vocation more than a profession; you do it for love of the game if you do it for any length of time, and you accept, in addition to all the study, training, road travel and stress of doing the job, a lot of undeserved abuse from people who do not have the first idea what the rules are, much less how they apply in the situations you call. When I called Baseball, there was a running schtick where umps in my TASO chapter kept a list of the "best" insults they'd heard from coaches and fans. If the NBA had decided to rig games on anything like the basis claimed by Mister Donaghy, we'd have heard about it long before now from the veterans who love the sport like their own kids. A lawyer representing several NBA officials (who are not allowed to speak publicly, as part of their employment with the NBA) said "if a referee were to do that he wouldn't be around long. Right now, they feel like a cop feels when another cop goes bad."

Unfortunately for Mr. Stern, that does not settle the matter. I believe the facts are that the NBA referees do not give preferential treatment for any one team over another, nor would they be party to any plan to rig games or a playoff series. That does not mean, however, that the league's hands are clean. For many years now, the NBA has ignored incidents of thuggery by players on-court and off, by a sharp decline in moral standards of personal conduct, and apparent inequities in how the league treats different franchises. The 'rigged game' claim found a ready audience this year, because of the sloppy and unprofesssional standards of this year's playoffs. Whether or not it is fact, the sense that the NBA wanted a Boston-LA championship series is a strong one, and that appearance is important to the league's condition and needs. The NBA's refusal to address how its actions and statements are perceived has caused minor issues to become a major scandal. This problem won't go away, Mister Stern, unless and until you sit down with the owners and fans of each town, and find some honesty and humility in your answers and pro mises. Arrogance won't cut it anymore, and neither will denial.


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Comments (5)

Can you provide examples of... (Below threshold)

Can you provide examples of the "sloppy and unprofessional" standards? And of course they wanted Boston-LA....I think it's a given that all sports league officials want their larger media markets represented in the post-season.

The rest of your piece is excellent.
"The 'rigged game' claim found a ready audience this year, because of the sloppy and unprofesssional standards of this year's playoffs. Whether or not it is fact, the sense that the NBA wanted a Boston-LA championship series is a strong one, and that appearance is important to the league's condition and needs."

I think it is a little more... (Below threshold)

I think it is a little more complicated then the choice of the game outcome is predetermined or it is honest and straight up game. For one thing there are the superstar calls that players, former players and NBA commentators acknowledge. For example Barkley said Brent Barry is a bench player so it was a good non call at the end of game 4 and they should gave it to Manu or Parker and then it would have been a foul. It is nowhere as bad as it was 5 to 10 years ago when Shaq could take ten steps and throw elbows to a guys face but there is still the superstar treatment to make heroes out of some.

As for the refs, I think sometimes they do get marching orders. Can they solely determine the game outcome? No. However they sure can give one team a big advantage. I understand there are going to be some miss calls and mistakes but there are times that it is clear that there is something more to it than miss calls.

Some will say the superstars get the calls because they are that good. They probably believe WWE is still real. It's about the money and stars make you money.

As i said on another thread... (Below threshold)

As i said on another thread about this subject, I really don't care what happens to the NBA and all who sail in her. Basketball is however the only ball game I played as a young man, and you're right I wasn't very good at it, but I do know the game. I seldom watch basketball on TV, but in 2002 I was with some friends who were Kings fans. It was obvious that the Kings got a job done on them.

he could be lying, making ... (Below threshold)
kepa poalima:

he could be lying, making up those allegations. but he made those allegations in a letter to a federal court. lying to the feds during an investigation or at sentencing or pre-sentencing, or at anytime for that matter, can be worse than your original crime. no lawyer worth hiring would allow you to submit lies to a federal court, in writing. he must have his lawyer believing his allegations as well.

Wayne nails it. Shaq in hi... (Below threshold)

Wayne nails it. Shaq in his heyday was playing something closer to football than basketball. He'd cradle the ball like a running back and take three or four steps (with no dribbling) to the basket for an easy dunk all the while pushing aside defenders with his free arm. Pro ball was seriously corrupted after the Magic Johnson/Larry Bird era. Defensive rules were adjusted to highlight one-on-one skills of superstars like Michael Jordan. This is a major reason why the USA has a hard time winning in international ball where the officiating is more honest (I can't believe I'm saying that). It's also why players like Shaq often avoided international basketball. Shaq couldn't win in college either. He's a Commisioner Stern/NBA/media creation to the detriment of the game of basketball.






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