East Coast Bias: NBA Finals Special Edition

You know, I’ve never been one to buy into the whole “professional sports games are fixed” line of thinking. Back fifty or sixty years ago when guys worked regular joe jobs in the off season, maybe someone could come in and dangle a few hundred grand under their noses to make them drop a pass, or maybe look at a ball in the wheelhouse that he should have taken 500 feet. Now? How much would have to dangle in front of A-Rod or Shaquille O’Neal to dog a game? Think about it.

However, what if you have the actual power to control the game?

I’m not saying that Darth Stern had a vested interest in ensuring that the series went back to Dallas with the Mavericks down 3-2, but one could assume he’d certainly want his league’s playoffs, widely regarded as the most exciting set of NBA playoffs in recent memory, to go the full seven. One could even guess that he’d want to ensure the series went back so the home team would be playing with their backs against the wall. Maybe he could even set the game up such that the referees would be friendly to the home team.

It’s not hard to do, really. Stern has access to every referee’s tendencies. He has access to which referees tend to blow the whistle for certain players. He has access to which referees tend toward the home team. Heck, he knows which referee would make a call with 1.9 seconds left in the game from half-court, a call that wasn’t even his to make.

Funny thing about screwing with a game, sometimes it comes back to bite you.

Here is the problem I have with the NBA, and it’s really the problem I had with it way back when I stopped watching. The referees, more often than not, dictate what team wins the game. You can go all the way back to Bird, Magic, and Jordan. All of those guys, if a defender so much as glanced in their general direction, drew fouls. We’ve seen this in the last two games with Wade. Wade, in the last five seconds of game five pushed off a defender, went around him, and charged through two more defenders to throw up a prayer that had no chance of going in. Wade had no intention of passing, no intention of pulling up, no intention of doing anything but throwing himself at two guys and getting a whistle. A referee from half-court blew a whistle. Mind you, there are TWO officials closer to the action to that point. The foul is theirs to call. However, this didn’t stop Bennett Salvatore from blowing the whistle from half court and bailing D-Wade out of disgustingly horrible shot selection.

Wade, to his credit, took advantage of the free throws.

ABC tried, bless them, to find an angle to show any contact. There wasn’t any. I am hitting my keyboard harder than Wade got hit. Yet he drew a foul… that Salvatore apparently saw from mid-court.

You can make any other conspiracy guesses you want. I don’t agree with them. Jerry Stackhouse being suspended in game 5? Consistent with what they’ve been doing throughout the playoffs. The “phantom timeout?” Sorry, Howard called it. Twice. Vehemently. The referee even tried to ignore him calling it at first. The ref didn’t acknowledge the timeout request until the Heat started noticing that Howard was trying to get a timeout. Rookie effed up. It happens.

What Wade represents is a return to what has made basketball suck eggs for the last ten years. Wade is the coddled, superstar player who gets all the whistles and takes stupid shots that wind up resulting in an equally stupid number of free throws while making highlight reel plays. Forget everything you hear about why basketball has fallen out of touch with the country. Forget your “America needs a white superstar” argument (Jordan wasn’t white). Forget your “The league is full of maniacs and thugs” argument (it’s not, just Ron Artest and Allan Iverson). Forget your “The league is full of babies that dog it when they’re unhappy” argument (… ok, well… 2 out of 3. One of them just won a ring). Game 5 and Game 6 highlighted what was wrong with the NBA.

The NBA officials, more than any other sport, decide the game.

In the final two games of the series, Dwayne Wade took 46 free throws. The entire Mavericks’ team took 48. Let me repeat that. The entire Mavericks’ team took only 2 more free throws than one guy on the Heat. A single, bogus call in Game 5 gave the series to the Heat.

And, riddle me this. If what Nowitzky did to Wade at the end of Game 5 was a 2-shot foul and if Wade throwing an elbow into Nowitzky’s gut with 30 seconds is a foul on Nowitzky, could Darth Stern please let us know why Jason Terry having his jersey grabbed in the process of shooting outside the arc not a 3-shot foul?

Could it be that Darth Stern didn’t want to hand a trophy to Mark Cuban? Maybe… maybe not. I’m not willing to dub it a conspiracy, because it’s the same old bullshit that made the NBA unwatchable for the last ten years. After the resurgence of the “team” aspect of NBA basketball (Pistons, Mavericks, Clippers, Suns) this year, it’s a horrendous shame that the referees felt the need to glaringly give the game to one team over another.

Especially because, more than anything, a bunch of people who were really digging the NBA again after a whole lot of years are left at the end of the season with a mouthful of the same old shit.

And that’s a shame.