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.