Sunday, July 27, 2008


I'm not an expert on the whole series of events that has resulted in the NBA vacating Seattle in favor of Oklahoma City, and if there's anyone reading this who would like to examine this situation here, specifically Stern's involvement and why in a just world, it would be another nail in his coffin, please get in touch.

in the meantime, it seems like our beloved Mafia commissioner is trying to intimidate former Seattle owner (and Starbucks chairman/president) Howard Schultz, telling Schultz this week that it would be "very expensive" to pursue a lawsuit seeking to return the team to Seattle from Oklahoma City.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

term limits

"Term limits are found usually in presidential and semi-presidential systems as a method to curb the potential for dictatorships, where a leader effectively becomes "president for life"."

NBA Presidents and Commissioners

1946-1963: Maurice Podoloff
1963-1975: Walter Kennedy
1975-1984: Larry O'Brien
1984-present: David Stern

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

the plot thickens

this blog has been quiet for a bit, not much new to report, and I didn't quite know how to react to Stern's new appointee to oversee the refs. it seems on the surface to be a step in the right direction, but that doesn't mean that Stern's tampering with the last decade of NBA results should just be water under the bridge.

anyway, some more damning news broke today:

"Tim Donaghy placed 134 calls to referee Scott Foster — more than the 126 calls Donaghy made to his bookie — between October 2006 and April 2007, the period during which he has confessed to either betting on games or passing on game information to gamblers. The majority of the phone calls lasted no more than two minutes and occurred prior to and after games Donaghy officiated and on which he admits wagering.",2933,381842,00.html

the specifics at that link are pretty incredible, that piece is essential reading. these calls were all made on his cell phone that was dedicated to gambling, and most within minutes of talking to his bookie.

oh, by the way, Stern chose to ignore all of this (or use it to his advantage) and let Foster ref games 1 and 5 of the Finals (along with Dick Bavetta). his arrogance, knowing that these facts would come out and simply not caring, continues to be just remarkable. WHERE ARE THE OWNERS?

Friday, July 4, 2008

The Fix In 2006

I started following NBA basketball in the late 1970s. For me, the battles between the 80s Celtics, Pistons and Lakers were the pinnacle of the Association. I've never seen pro basketball played with a higher degree of both skill and physicality than I saw during those golden years of the league. But my love for the game outlived those teams and I followed NBA ball for another two decades.

For me, everything changed in June of 2006.

In 2004, I finally ordered the NBA League Pass package from my cable provider and started watching games around the league on a nightly basis. I enjoyed some of the new metrics that statisticians were developing to rate players and spent a lot of time talking basketball on internet forums. The sport I'm most passionate about is hockey, but during the NHL lockout, NBA basketball had my undivided attention. Even when play resumed in the NHL, I kept my League Pass subscription and continued to watch hoops around the league every chance I got.

I've always had a gripe with how the league officiates games. I don't particularly care for the special treatment star players receive. To my mind, the best players are still going to be the best players, even without getting favorable whistles. But the league is all about star players and their numbers, and debates about which player is the best this year, who is the best ever and will so-and-so ever become the "next Jordan." It's how the game has marketed itself, and it's the mindset it caters to. It's not about teams, really; unless we're talking a huge market team, in which case any news is big news, even if the story is that the team sucks. No, the NBA is about LeBron taking over the big playoff game, the little Canadian guy with the floppy hair winning consecutive MVP awards and the least likable professional athlete of the millennium going for 81.

Even so, I still love the skill and speed of the game, and the fierce competition at the highest levels; so, I still watch the games. When the real season starts, it's best of seven games, and the better team wins. At least, that's how I felt until a couple of years ago. I really didn't see anything that troubled me at the dawn of the 2006 NBA Finals. I thought the Miami Heat and Dallas Mavericks got to the biggest dance pretty much fair and square. But after Dallas took a 2-0 lead and the series shifted to Miami, what happened next changed the way I've watched every NBA game since.

I was willing to write off the wildly poor officiating and general turn of events in game 3 as the league's customary insurance policy that the series not end in a sweep. Just the fact that so many fans like myself "understand" that that's just how things work in the NBA is pretty damning, but as I said, over the course of a playoff series, I never believed that all the questionable calls would ultimately snatch the series from the better team. After game 4, I felt differently. It was becoming clear to me that Dwyane Wade was playing under a different set of rules than everyone else on the court. Suddenly, I had no idea what a foul was. What was going on? That's what I kept asking myself. By the time Dallas went home down 3 games to 2, I had the sense that they simply were not going to win another game. It was as if it had been decided. After it was over, I couldn't shake the feeling that it had been.

I've watched a lot of basketball games, and I've seen some atrocious calls. There were many playoff series over the years that suffered from awful officiating, and like anyone else, I scratched my head and wondered. But I never bought into the idea that the league might actually execute a plan in which one team would essentially be handed a championship. This series was the first time. It wasn't like nobody else noticed. People like myself - fans of the game with no horse in this race - were searching for an explanation for why one player was deemed absolutely untouchable for the last 4 games of the series, all of them Miami wins.

The evidence is pretty hard to explain away. You're an NBA official, but everyone knows you're not perfect and can't always get a great view of every play. But if there is never even the illusion of contact, from any angle, how do you justify blowing a whistle?

And we're not talking about one bad game or even one or two bad calls per game. We're talking about something that shaped most of a playoff series and, in my opinion, decided the outcome and crowned an undeserving champion. I used to laugh off conspiracy theories about the NBA, but damned if I wasn't at a complete loss to find a rational explanation for what I'd seen in this series.

I still watch the NBA and enjoy the athleticism, talent and excitement of the games. But I no longer let the outcome of the games affect me at any kind of significant emotional level. I simply don't have faith in the "best team wins" principle anymore. I don't know what's really going on in the league. The Donaghy scandal has undoubtedly damaged the league's credibility, and probably even to an extent that it doesn't deserve; plenty of crackpots have probably had their craziest notions validated by this whole mess, but it doesn't mean they aren't still crackpots. And honestly, it didn't take the news about Donaghy to sour me on the integrity of the NBA; I was already there. But it sure doesn't help, either.

One thing I'm sure of is that David Stern needs to go. This league has seen unprecedented economic growth under his reign, but it's come at a terrible price. The league is drawing not entirely ridiculous comparisons to the WWE now. It's not a time for stubborn arrogance anymore, it's time for the NBA to admit it has a problem and take serious steps towards fixing it. And I don't believe David Stern is capable of that.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

international incidents

Thanks to Jon for inviting me to post here since I believe that Stern, after being a somewhat exemplary commish for years (although how much of that was the extremely poor performances of Tagliabue, Selig and whatever mensas the NHL trotted out, making a merely submediocre performance appear stellar, is open for debate) has decidedly jumped the shark and entered the zone in which any and all criticism is dismissed out of hand. There's no evidence that his subordinates have the spine to tell him anything other than everything is fantastic even at the mention of the Donaghy revelations. And in fairness, the extremely high tv ratings of the Celtics/Lakers matchup (not to mention the lack of comments here) could lead a reasonable person to think things were great.

But one thing that Stern has gotten a free pass on is the decline in the play of the NBA in international competition. Prior to Stern taking over, it was unheard of for the NBA players to lose against any outsiders, other than ABA exhibition games before they were subsequently assimilated into the league. And when the Dream Team participated in the 92 Olympics in Barcelona, it was a basketball celeb-fest featuring MJ, Magic, Bird, Sir Charles, David Robinson, the Mailman, Stockton et al. and the games were all lopsided wins. Even at Coach Chuck Daly is quoted as saying that the rest of the world would eventually be more competitive but it wouldn't happen anytime soon.

Not so fast with that prediction, Chuck; the 96 team, with 5 members of the 92 team plus Shaq and Olajuwon, won handily but the 2000 team beat Lithuania by 2 points as Sarunas Jesikevicius missed a three-pointer at the buzzer. Subsequently the final game against France was dangerously close until the US team pulled away to win by 10. To be fair, many superstars had bailed on the team which, owing to the length of an NBA season, is understandable. However the feeling of invulnerability had been badly dented. This dent finally broke through in the FIBA World Championship Games in 2002 when a team of NBA players lost to Argentina and Yugoslavia, finishing sixth. In fairness to coach George Karl, even fewer NBA elite players chose to participate in this. Still this was a result that happened far in advance of Chuck Daly's prediction.

Stung by this, the NBA stars regrouped and fielded a team that won the 2003 FIBA Americas Championship games, which also served to qualify for the 2004 Olympics. Unfortunately the participants in this largely begged off of the Olympic team (again, length of schedule), which despite having Tim Duncan and AI, promptly lost their first game to Puerto Rico by 19 points and subsequently lost to Lithuania and Argentina on the way to the bronze medal.

Now is it fair to blame all this on Stern? Obviously not; this was predicted years ago by Al McGuire although he thought it would happen much sooner than it did (Al always was one to exaggerate). Plus the international teams often include NBA players that have returned home to play. But the luster of the NBA, formerly the undisputed gold standard in the world, has been tarnished under his watch. And to my knowledge, in keeping with his "nothing to see here" attitude, Stern has never reflected on this decline to the media.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Ralph Nader's opinion

below is the complete text of an interview that ran in this week's Sports Illustrated, between Dan Patrick and Ralph Nader:

Dan Patrick: How do you feel about what Tim Donaghy has said about referees manipulating results?

Ralph Nader: The question is his credibility. Obviously he has a self-interest after pleading guilty to his contacts with gamblers. But he's not the only one to raise that. In the 2002 series between the L.A. Lakers and the Sacramento Kings, it's clear that the officials favored the Lakers, wanting a seventh game. And David Stern whitewashed it after a lot of people—from Michael Wilbon, of The Washington Post, to me—complained. The NBA is really a giant corporate dictatorship. And the players are fined substantially simply for exercising their rights of free speech. It's in that context that we have to raise these issues.

DP: Can a sport police itself?

RN: I don't think in this instance that David Stern and the NBA even want to police themselves.

DP: In 2002 you wrote a letter to the commissioner. What response did you get?

RN: After I wrote the letter, I called him up and I had a conversation with him. He was cordial but imperious. He indicated that they would review games. And of course, it was a whitewash. Nobody admitted mistakes.

DP: Why would the commissioner expose himself to the possibility of fixing games?

RN: Because it doesn't have anything to do with gamblers. If it did, the outside system of criminal law would come in. But Stern's got an autocratic domain. And because the referees are protected by David Stern, there's no accountability. And that doesn't mean [the commissioner's office] is directly involved. It means that referees who are favorites of the boss know what the boss would like to see.

DP: Are you a Kings fan?

RN: I like the underdogs. And somebody may say, given all that's going on in the world, this is pretty minor stuff. But this is a kind of sanctuary for Americans, professional sports. They want to have one area of their lives where they can respect what's going on. And I'm afraid that this kind of officiating ruptures that trust.

Monday, June 16, 2008


in some circles, talk about the NBA influencing playoff games/series is still regarded as crazy, the realm of conspiracy theorists. one claim is that this could never happen because too many people would need to be involved and there's too much at risk. this post is to show why that's not necessarily the case, using tonight's game as an example.

so clearly the preference of the NBA for tonight's game was a Lakers win, extending the series and the season one more game, and making sure it ends in front of a manic Boston crowd as opposed to a tepid LA one. Dick Bavetta, whose previous exploits were briefly detailed here earlier via Bill Simmons, was made the lead official.

most of the game was called very fairly, with less home team bias than we've grown accustomed to this postseason. however, with less than 5 minutes left in the game, Boston tied it up at 90, and clearly had the momentum, especially after successfully coming back from a similar huge deficit in the previous game. Boston's D was typically suffocating, and had only committed one foul in the first 7 1/2 minutes of the quarter. so what happened next?

4:24 Paul Pierce personal foul (his 4th)
3:36 Kevin Garnett personal foul (his 5th)
3:31 Paul Pierce personal foul (his 5th)
3:23 James Posey shooting foul

the second and third of these were off the ball and very dubious, I don't specifically recall the first and fourth. but the overall impact was to put LA into the penalty for the rest of the game and allow the refs to foul out Garnett or Pierce or both if they needed to.

so the point is that when teams are reasonably evenly matched, as has been the case for quite a few series this year, it doesn't take much to influence the outcome if a ref is trying to do so. there also wouldn't have to be a paper trail, Stern talks to a league official who talks to Bavetta, no records, no one knows for sure what's happened except them.

so, is that what really happened tonight? I'm obviously not sure, how could I be? but the point is that the NBA under David Stern's leadership has degenerated to a point where people paying close attention think that this kind of manipulation is a distinct possibility, and it becomes very hard to trust any results as entirely legitimate.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

big city bias

here's a bit of simplistic yet interesting analysis showing that the two teams that consistently outperformed their regular season performance in the playoffs over the past 12 seasons were miraculously (ahem) also the teams that play in the two biggest cities, NY and LA.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Terry Pluto chimes in

courtesy of the lurking Captain Hate, here's veteran NBA writer Terry Pluto's take on the state of the WBF (World Basketball Federation), questioning whether Stern has any interest in learning the truth about what's going on (I'd go further and say that he knows very well what's happening, what he doesn't want is for it to go public):

(link on two lines for formatting)

Dick Bavetta


Bill Simmons, in 2002:

"If you examine the last four NBA playoff campaigns, during every situation where the league definitively "needed" one of the two teams involved to win -- either to A) change the momentum of a series so it didn't end prematurely, B) keep an attractive, big-market team alive in a series, or C) advance an attractive, big-market team to another round -- the officiating appeared to be slanted towards the team that needed that game. I use the phrase "appeared to be," because reviewing an official's performance is purely subjective. Maybe I'm dead-wrong.

These were just the games that jump out in my mind (again, I could be wrong):

# 1999, Knicks-Pacers, Game 3 ... LJ sinks a game-winning four-pointer (called a continuation foul by referee Jess Kersey even though LJ was fouled a full second before he released the ball).

# 1999, Knicks-Pacers, Game 6 ... Knicks last chance to close out Indy before the series shifts back to Indiana for Game 7 ... they get every call.

# 1999, Spurs-Knicks, Game 3 ... down 2-0, the Knicks get every call in their first home game and win their only game of the series.

# 2000, Knicks-Heat, Game 7 ... Knicks advance to the conference finals ... falling out of bounds, Latrell Sprewell awarded a timeout by referee Bennett Salvatore with 2.1 seconds left even though none of the Knicks called for one ... Sprewell admits after the game that he hadn't called a timeout ... the Miami players chase the referees off the court after the game, yelling that they had been robbed ... after the game, Jamal Mashburn tells reporters, "They had three officials in their pocket" and Tim Hardaway refers to referee Dick Bavetta as "Knick Bavetta."

# 2000, Lakers-Blazers, Game 7 ... LA shoots 21 more free throws and rallies back from a 17-point deficit in the final seven minutes ... Shaq plays an illegal defense down the stretch, undaunted ... Rasheed Wallace absolutely gets manhandled down the stretch, yet doesn't get a single call ... up by four with 25 seconds left, Shaq body-blocks Steve Smith out of bounds and the refs don't make the call (the most egregious non-call in recent memory).

# 2002, Celtics-Nets, Game 4 ... Celts up 2-1 ... the Nets are inexplicably allowed to push and shove Kenny Anderson and Pierce while they dribble the ball ... a number of head-scratchers go against Boston, including three offensive charges down the stretch ... four different "bull-(bleep)" chants during the game.

# 2002, Lakers-Kings, Game 6 ... LA needs a win to stay alive ... from an officiating standpoint, the most one-sided game of the past decade ... at least six dubious calls against the Kings in the fourth quarter alone ... LA averaged 22 free throws a game during the first five games of the series, then attempted 27 freebies in the fourth quarter alone of Game 6 ... rumors that David Stern wanted to pull a Vince McMahon and declare himself "The special guest referee" for this game prove unfounded."


this week we learned that federal investigators have been asking other referees pointed questions about Bavetta. gee, maybe this isn't just a Tim Donaghy problem, huh?

the crimes

to begin with, a list of playoff series from the past decade that have either gone the wrong way or not been allowed to play out fairly, due to incompetence or cheating or both:

1999 New York/Indiana
2002 LA/Sacramento
2005 Dallas/Houston
2006 Miami/Dallas
2007 San Antonio/Phoenix
2008 LA/San Antonio
2008 Boston/LA

this is a world where Kobe and Shaq have only 2 rings each, where Mark Cuban and Dirk Nowitzki have one, where Chris Webber has one, where Mike D'Antoni and Steve Nash have one. also, as you can see, the series under question have increased in frequency over the last few seasons.

any I'm missing here? I'll go into depth about each of these as time goes on.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

just what it says

David Stern has been the commissioner of the NBA since 1984, and whether he'll admit it or not, the NBA is right now in the biggest crisis of his tenure there and it's on Stern in the end. he's made it so real fans don't know what's real and what's scripted anymore, he's been in charge when Sacramento and Dallas were both cheated out of titles, and he's been smug and condescending, denying endlessly without even bothering to check with the people involved, and seemingly increasingly so in recent years as the league spirals quietly out of control. 24 years is a nice run even if it lasted too long in the end, but the NBA needs someone new, the sooner the better. the owners don't seem to care, so anyone who does, fans, players, coaches, officials, needs to do what they can to help fix it, and right now, I think that starts with a new commissioner.

anyway, this blog welcomes anyone who shares my viewpoint, who thinks that David Stern needs to resign or be fired and that the new commissioner needs to make some serious changes. any advice on how this can practically happen is welcome, any words of encouragement from anyone in a position to know details, or best yet, anyone who has any inside details, for attribution or anonymously, I'll credit however you want.

more to follow, tonight's game 4 of this reality television series I've been following, tons of cool characters and subplots this season!