Sunday, December 6, 2009

The NBA's worst nightmare

Disgraced NBA referee Tim Donaghy was set to release a book called "Blowing the Whistle" (pun definitely intended) that was going to expose the culture of refereeing in the NBA and how star players are legitimately given preferential treatment. For those of you who don't know Tim Donaghy, he was charged and convicted of betting on basketball games that he himself officiated and spent 15 months in jail for his crimes. The book was cancelled (supposedly the NBA was going to sue) but Deadspin somehow managed to obtain a copy and released excerpts on their website for the viewing public. Granted, it's hard to really know the extent of how much Donaghy says is true but even if half his stories are real, the game's perceptions for fans around the world would be significantly altered.

Here is one excerpt that really bothers me, even though it comes as no surprise. I've always loved big blocked shots and watching superstars miss thanks to some good old defence - which, some people forget, IS half of any sport. So when I read this, I can't help but side with those who think professional sports are becoming more show than showing up to play.

"Relationships between NBA players and referees were generally all over the board — love, hate, and everything in-between. Some players, even very good ones, were targeted by referees and the league because they were too talented for their own good. Raja Bell, formerly of the Phoenix Suns and now a member of the Charlotte Bobcats, was one of those players. A defensive specialist throughout his career, Bell had a reputation for being a "star stopper." His defensive skills were so razor sharp that he could shut down a superstar, or at least make him work for his points. Kobe Bryant was often frustrated by Bell's tenacity on defense. Let's face it, no one completely shuts down a player of Kobe's caliber, but Bell could frustrate Kobe, take him out of his game, and interrupt his rhythm.

You would think that the NBA would love a guy who plays such great defense. Think again! Star stoppers hurt the promotion of marquee players. Fans don't pay high prices to see players like Raja Bell — they pay to see superstars like Kobe Bryant score 40 points. Basketball purists like to see good defense, but the NBA wants the big names to score big points.

If a player of Kobe's stature collides with the likes of Raja Bell, the call will almost always go for Kobe and against Bell. As part of our ongoing training and game preparation, NBA referees regularly receive game-action video tape from the league office. Over the years, I have reviewed many recorded hours of video involving Raja Bell. The footage I analyzed usually illustrated fouls being called against Bell, rarely for him. The message was subtle but clear — call fouls against the star stopper because he's hurting the game."

Check out the rest of the excerpts here

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