Friday, April 08, 2005

Basketball and Dubious Officiating

As a follow-up to a previous post, I figured I'd post this little passage I stumbled across while reading Chuck Klosterman's magnificent "Low-Culture Manifesto" Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs. Although I don't agree with every single thing in it, I found the piece amusing because, well ... because it is, and in a more relevant sense, because I know Dids and I remember this ridiculously-officiated game like it was yesterday. Hope you enjoy.

"On the last day of May in 2002, the Los Angeles Lakers defeated the Sacramento Kings in the sixth game of the Western Conference Finals in one of the worst officiated games in recent memory (the Lakers shot a whopping twenty-seven free throws in the fourth quarter alone, and Kings guard Mike Bibby was whistled for a critical phantom foul after Kobe Bryant elbowed him in the head).

Obviously, this is not the first time hoops zebras have cost someone a game. However, people will always remember this particular travesty, mostly because the game was publicly protested by former Green Party presidential candidate Ralph Nader.

'Unless the NBA orders a review of this game's officiating, perceptions and suspicions, however presently absent any evidence, will abound,' wrote the semi-respected consumer advocate in a letter to NBA commissioner David Stern. 'A review that satisfies the fans' sense of fairness and deters future recurrences would be a salutory contribution to the public trust that the NBA badly needs.'

As usual, Nader's argument is only half right. Were the Kings jammed by the referees? Yes. Was Game Six an egregious example of state-sponsored cheating? Probably. But this is what sets the NBA apart from every other team sport in North America: Everyone who loves pro basketball assumes it's a little fixed. We all think the annual draft lottery is probably rigged, we all accept that the league aggressively wants big market teams to advance deep into the playoffs, and we all concede that certain marquee players are going to get preferential treatment for no valid reason. The outcomes of games aren't predetermined or scripted, but there are definitely dark forces who play with our reality. There are faceless puppet masters who pull strings and manipulate the purity of justice. It's not necessarily a full-on conspiracy, but it's certainly not fair. And that's why the NBA remains the only game that matters: Pro basketball is exactly like life."


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