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!