As mentioned in my earlier post, disgraced NBA referree Timothy Donaghy has essentially accused the NBA of fixing games. In his sentencing letter (linked in my earlier post), he makes a thinly-veiled reference to game six of the Lakers-Sacramento series in 2002:
Referees A, F, and G were officiating a playoff series between the Team 5 and Team 6 in May of 2002. It was the sixth game of a seven-game series, and a Team 5 victory that night would have ended the series. However, [I] learned from Referee A that Referees A and F wanted to extend the series to seven games. [I] knew Refereees A and F to be "company men," always acting in the interest of the NBA, and that night, it was in the NBA's interest to add another game to the series.
Ralph Nader complained about this game to NBA Commissioner Stern at the time in a letter that can be found here. What he wrote at the time takes on a whole new cast now:
Calls by referees in the NBA are likely to be more subjective than in professional baseball or football. But as the judicious and balanced Washington Post sports columnist Michael Wilbon wrote this Sunday, too many of the calls in the fourth quarter (when the Lakers received 27 foul shots) were "stunningly incorrect," all against Sacramento. After noting that the three referees in Game 6 "are three of the best in the game," he wrote: "I have never seen officiating in a game of consequence as bad as that in Game 6....When Pollard, on his sixth and final foul, didn't as much as touch Shaq. Didn't touch any part of him. You could see it on TV, see it at courtside. It wasn't a foul in any league in the world. And Divac, on his fifth foul, didn't foul Shaq. They weren't subjective or borderline or debatable. And these fouls not only resulted in free throws, they helped disqualify Sacramento's two low-post defenders." And one might add, in a 106-102 Lakers' victory, this officiating took away what would have been a Sacramento series victory in 6 games.
This was not all. The Kobe Bryant elbow in the nose of Mike Bibby, who after lying on the floor groggy, went to the sideline bleeding, was in full view of the referee, who did nothing, prompted many fans to start wondering about what was motivating these officials.
Wilbon discounted any conspiracy theories about the NBA-NBC desire for a Game 7 etc., but unless the NBA orders a review of this game's officiating, perceptions and suspicions, however presently absent any evidence, will abound and lead to more distrust and distaste for the games in general.
Nader makes a point that I agree with: The NBA should not prohibit coaches and players from criticizing referees, on penalty of substantial fines.
Donahy's suggestions, contained in his letter, are less helpful. He suggests "that the league train referees to treat all players equally, regardless of popularity. This policy would help ensure that referees officiate games fairly." Well, yeah, but how are you going to do that?
UPDATE: As pointed out by a VC reader, there's a good, balanced discussion of the issue over at Salon, found here.