The latest chapter of the Tim Donaghy saga:
Talk about casting a pall over the NBA Finals. On the same day that the first feel-good championship series in years -- probably since Lakers-Bulls in 1991 -- finally became competitive, the whole affair was tainted by allegations of game-massaging (at best) and game-fixing (at worst). Talk about your wet blankets.
But before I get into the sordid details, let's back up. Prior to Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals, my buddy BadDave asked me what my real
opinion was on NBA officiating. Or, as he put it, "Do you think that games are really fixed?"
The short answer was "No."
The long answer was a bit more complicated. With one possible exception (more on that below), I've never felt as though any NBA games were clearly and blatantly fixed. However, I have often felt -- especially during the playoffs -- that the refs carefully and perhaps even consciously control the flow of the game, favoring Team A here, favoring Team B there, to keep things close, make them more exciting...which keeps viewers viewing and is obviously good for business. And of course it's been clear since, like, forever that fouls (and non-fouls) are called differently based on who's playing at home and who's playing on the road.
To me, it's basically like turning on "Computer Assistance" in NBA Live.
But it's not absolute. It's not a clear-cut fix (except in that one notable case I'm going to discuss soon). The players still have to make shots (or not make them, in some cases). Take the first round series between Atlanta and Boston. The Hawks were given much more leeway to play physical at home than they were in the Garden. They were allowed to bump and push and hold just a wee bit more...nothing egregious, but enough to make the Celtics miss tough shots (and get rattled, which they did). And let's face it, it didn't hurt that there was at least one big first-round storyline -- the best team in the league gets taken to the limit by a big-time underdog -- when the Western Conference playoffs, which were supposed to be so competitive, basically sucked.
Take the now-infamous Game 2 of this championship series. The Celtics enjoyed a 38-10 advantage in freethrow attempts that had Phil Jackson and the Lakers faithful
freaking out and making wild, even ridiculous allegations. But maybe they aren't all that ridiculous after all.
Donaghy's lawyers filed a letter that -- although it didn't name any names -- claimed the NBA encourages its officials to call bogus fouls to manipulate results while also discouraging them from calling technical fouls on star players to keep them in games and protect ticket sales and television ratings.
As the letter stated: "If the NBA wanted a team to succeed, league officials would inform referees that opposing players were getting away with violations. Referees then would call fouls on certain players, frequently resulting in victory for the opposing team."
But even worse, the letter stated that Donaghy learned in May 2002 that two officials -- refs of the "company men" variety -- were working a best-of-seven series in which "Team 5" was leading 3-2. Then, in the sixth game, they allegedly ignored fouls made by opponent "Team 6" and made phantom calls putting its players at the free-throw line. The letter concluded that "Team 6" won the game and came back to win the series.
It doesn't take a team of super genuises
working on the Bat Computer
to figure out which game Donaghy was talking about: Game 6 of the 2002 Western Conference Finals
In that game, which featured the Kings and Lakers playing in Los Angeles, the Lakeshow finished the game with a 40-25 advantage in freethrow attempts. Which in and of itself doesn't seem like that big of a deal until you realize the Lakers got 27 freethrow attempts in the fourth quarter alone
I watched that travesty live, and it was one of the worst things I've ever seen. In point of fact, that game was The Reason
why we invented the term The Stern Button
. (It even says so in the entry.) And it wasn't just a case of the Lakers getting every call, it reached such ridiculous lengths that Sacramento players were actually jumping out of the way
of L.A. players and still
getting called for fouls. It was crazy.
That game caused Ralph Nadar to write a strongly-worded and accusatory letter to David Stern
, and Washington Post
sports columnist Michael Wilbon said
: "I have never seen officiating in a game of consequence as bad as that in Game 6....When Pollard, on his sixth and final foul, didn't as much as touch Shaq. Didn't touch any part of him. You could see it on TV, see it at courtside. It wasn't a foul in any league in the world. And Divac, on his fifth foul, didn't foul Shaq. They weren't subjective or borderline or debatable. And these fouls not only resulted in free throws, they helped disqualify Sacramento's two low-post defenders. And one might add, in a 106-102 Lakers' victory, this officiating took away what would have been a Sacramento series victory in 6 games."
And now is very possible that, as many people suspected, the game may actually have been fixed.It's enough to make Scott Pollard cry
. "If it was proven that it was -- I don't know how it could ever be proven that it was -- that would hurt. That would hurt the league, it would hurt my feelings, it would hurt everybody. That's ugly. You don't want that to be true. I don't want it to be found out that that was true. I would much rather live with human error than human interference."
As you would expect, Stern's response
was arrogant and dismissive, which is his typical modus operandi. Said the Commish (in a sort of summary): "My reactions to Donaghy's lawyer are that clearly as the date of sentencing gets closer and the things that he's thrown against the wall haven't stuck, he's rehashing a variety of things that have been given to the U.S. attorney and the FBI, fully investigated and are baseless. He's a desperate man and he'll make whatever allegation he can at the most propitious time somehow I think to manipulate the process. We're confident that the FBI and the U.S. Attorney's office and the Court will not be taken in by his activities."
And Phil Jackson, who's always been eager and quick to attach an asterisk to the victories of his enemies, was quick to both repudiate allegations
and direct everyone to "injustices" leveled against the Lakers earlier in that 2002 series. "The allegation was that they were extending the series? Was that after the fifth game after we had the game stolen away from us after a bad call out of bounds and gave the ball back to Sacramento and they made a three-point shot? There's a lot of things going on in these games and they're suspicious, but I don't want to throw it back to there." God, I hate Phil Jackson sometimes.
Anyway, who knows what the "truth" is at this point? But whatever the case, it was a dark day for the NBA, for officiating, and for the Finals game that, sadly, had to take a back seat to this whole mess. Which totally sucked the enjoyment out of it for me. So if this post seems a little angry, it probably is.Shooting:
The Celtics shot 35 percent from the field. The Lakers, by contract, shot a relatively blistering 43 percent. Of course, if you take away Sasha Vujacic (7-for-10) and Kobe Bryant (12-for-20), they shot 28 percent (11-for-39). It was an ugly brick-a-palooza. As Phil Jackson put it: "It was not a beautiful ballgame." But the Zen Master shrugged it off as a simple problem of jet lag. "That's a transition game from East Coast to West Coast. But we'll have a day to catch up tomorrow and hopefully both of us will play better basketball on Thursday night."Kevin Garnett:
Why oh why does KG insist on jacking up shots from the outside? Dig it: 15 of his 21 shots were jumpers. He shot 6-for-21, by the way. Although maybe he knew what he was doing; according to the short chart
, Garnett was 0-for-3 on layups and only 2-for-3 on dunks. But in all seriousness, KG needs to take most of his shots from the inside and only a handful from the outside...not the other way around.Paul Pierce:
Think the Lakers fans will believe Pierce's knee is hurt now? His mobility, particularly on drives, was severely limited and he finished the game with only 6 points on 2-for-14 shooting. He missed all four of his three-pointers. The truth is...the Truth sucked in Game 3.Leon Powe:
After his 21-points-in-15-minutes performance in Game 2, everybody was screaming for Doc to get more PT for Leon. But Powe was almost totally ineffective in the six minutes he played in Game 3: 1 point (0-for-3), 2 rebounds, 1 turnover and 2 fouls. Oh, and two of his three shots were fed back to him. That's why he's a reserve
: He' not going to be dynamite every night. And I guess Doc realizes that, even if nobody else does.Sam Cassell:
Holy crap, this guy shoots the rock like it's going to explode. He touches it, he shoots it. I thought Sam was a wily veteran. What is he even thinking out there? It's a joke. Even the announcers are openly mocking his gunnery.The Lakers not named "Mamba" or "The Machine":
Derek Fisher (1-for-6). Pau Gasol (3-for-9). Lamar Odom (2-for-9). Vladimir Radmanovic (1-for-4). Luke Walton (0-for-3). It's like there was a shooter's version of mononucleosis going around the Lakers locker room. I can only hope that Kobe and Voojeychick catch it by Game 4.Kobe Bryant, world's greatest teammate:
Mamba wants the world to know he both calmed and inspired his teammates after the Lakers stumbled into an 0-2 series hole. Just ask him. "What I tried to do with my teammates is just stay calm. It wasn't the end of the world. They did a great job of defending home court. We knew we had to come here and do the same. They feed off of my confidence and I have all the confidence in the world that we can come here and win."
Whatever. Look. Kobe's great. There's no question. He's one of the most amazing scorers in the history of the game. But the guy's an unremitting ass. He went bleep-crazy on the rest of the Lakers in Game 2. He stares them down. He glowers at them when they make mistakes. I don't care if you love Kobe or you hate him, if you were playing basketball with somebody who treated you the way Kobe treats his teammates you would hate his guts. I guarantee it.
Curt Shilling was sitting behind the Lakers bench during Game 2 in Boston, and he made some pretty interesting observations on his blog
: "Kobe. This one stunned me a little bit. Who doesn't know Kobe Bryant right? I only know what I have heard, starting awhile back with the entire Shaq debacle. I don't really have an opinion one way or the other on or about him other than to know that people feel he might be one of the 4-5 greatest players to ever lace it up. What I do know is what I got to see up close and hear, was unexpected. From the first tip until about 4 minutes left in the game I saw and heard this guy bitch at his teammates. Every TO he came to the bench pissed, and a few of them he went to other guys and yelled about something they weren’t doing, or something they did wrong. No dialog about 'hey let's go, let's get after it' or whatever. He spent the better part of 3.5 quarters pissed off and ranting at the non-execution or lack of, of his team. Then when they made what almost was a historic run in the 4th, during a TO, he got down on the floor and basically said 'Let's f'ing go, right now, right here' or something to that affect. I am not making this observation in a good or bad way, I have no idea how the guys in the NBA play or do things like this, but I thought it was a fascinating bit of insight for me to watch someone in another sport who is in the position of a team leader and how he interacted with his team and teammates. Watching the other 11 guys, every time out it was high fives and 'Hey nice work, let's get after it' or something to that affect. He walked off the floor, obligatory skin contact on the high five, and sat on the bench stone faced or pissed off, the whole game. Just weird to see another sport and how it all works. I would assume that's his style and how he plays and what works for him because when I saw the leader board for scoring in the post season his name sat up top at 31+ a game, can't argue with that. But as a fan I was watching the whole thing, Kobe, his teammates and then the after effects of conversations. He'd yell at someone, make a point, or send a message, turn and walk away, and more than once the person on the other end would roll eyes or give a 'whatever dude' look."
Of course, when he heard about it Phil Jackson -- the same guy who blasted Kobe to tiny bits
in a first-person, tell-all book
a few years back -- got all bent out of shape that people might (GASP!) find out what an asshat Kobe can be. "I've been against [fans sitting close to the bench] for as long as I've been coaching. Those people don't belong there, somebody is going to get hurt. But that becomes part of what the NBA is about, being close to the action and close to the scene. We have to suffer the consequences because of it." Considering the fact that he wrote that above-mentioned book, that statement sure makes Phil seem like a bit of a hypocrite. But at least he's a very Zen-like hypocrite.
Kobe's freethrow shooting:
I'm not even going to get into the officiating, but Mamba got his calls in Game 3...and 18 freethrow attempts. Amazingly, he missed seven of them. Crazy for somebody who's normally so clutch.Update! Doc Rivers, quote machine:
Doc took the "high ground" after his team loss the freethrow battle to the Lakers. Said Doc
: "I'm just surprised [Jackson] didn't whine about the fouls tonight. I told our guys, 'Listen, you had a chance to win but don't be delusional. That team attacked you, they were the aggressor. That's why they went to the foul line. They deserved it.' I told them I didn't want to hear about Coach Jackson complaining and that's why. No that's not why. They played harder, they drove to the basket and they deserved to go to the foul line." Doc might not be half the coach Jackson is, but at least he's got a little something Phil doesn't have: Class.Update! Mark Jackson and Jeff Van Gundy:
Basketbawful reader jodial observed that: "Your 'Worst of the Night' should have included J. Van Gundy and M. Jackson's impassioned on-the-air claims that 'you don't have to win a championship to be a champion.' Huh?! Sounds like a couple of guys who never won championships talking!" True dat. I mean, no offense to guys like Barkley, Ewing, Malone, Stockton, and Wilkins...but you're only a champion if you're, you know, a champion
Labels: Boston Celtics, feeling pissed off, Kobe Bryant, Los Angeles Lakers, NBA Finals, officiating, Phil Jackson, Tim Donaghy