UPDATE on Tuesday, May 20 at 4:40 p.m. ET by Adam Fromal
You just have to love conflicting stories.
Even though Warren Flagg, the retired FBI agent who's at the center of this brewing piece of news, was pretty definitive with his words, Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban isn't having any of it:
To set the record straight. I have never hired or consulted with any former FBI agents to investigate our 2006 Finals.— Mark Cuban (@mcuban) May 20, 2014
It seems as though a battle of words is developing. The stories from these two couldn't be any more different in this black-and-white issue.
--End of update--
Mark Cuban has never been shy about criticizing NBA officials, but it seems he took things a step further after the 2006 NBA Finals in which his Dallas Mavericks fell to the Miami Heat in six controversial games.
Retired FBI agent Warren Flagg, a 20-year veteran of the bureau, said he consulted with Cuban after that playoff debacle. Flagg now runs his own New York-based investigation and security firm. He looked deep into officiating, as Flagg said, Cuban was considering a lawsuit.
"Cuban asked me what he should do," Flagg said of the 2006 Finals. "I told him, 'Sue and you'll win your case,' but he knew he'd be killing the Golden Goose."
This is the stuff of NBA conspiracy theorists' dreams, even if it probably still gives Cuban nightmares.
Dallas had taken a 2-0 lead with a pair of convincing wins in Games 1 and 2. It seemed like a foregone conclusion that the Mavs would cruise home.
But Wade's parade to the free-throw line changed all that.
Joey Crawford was part of the officiating crew for Game 5 of that series, when Wade attempted 25 foul shots in a 101-100 win. As a team, the Mavericks shot precisely 25 free throws in the contest.
As Flagg indicated in his comments to Canzano, perhaps Cuban never followed through with a lawsuit because he was afraid of the potential consequences. Unfortunately, it sounds like we'll never know what Flagg uncovered or why Cuban chose not to take things further.
Expect anyone with a conspiratorial bent to take this report as proof positive something fishy was going on with the NBA and its officials. But for the rest of us, the comments from Flagg aren't enough from which to draw reasonable conclusions.
As Kurt Helin of NBC Sports wisely explained:
But just as is the main flaw with almost any conspiracy—the illuminati, the CIA killed Kennedy, Area 51, etc—it counts on large groups with sometimes competing interests plus often inefficient organizations to maintain perfect secrecy and focus on the end game. The league with its owners and all those referees couldn’t do that if they wanted do.
Though the incidents are unrelated, Canzano also relayed a fascinating (and perhaps highly satisfying—if you're Mark Cuban) anecdote from a 2001 meeting involving Crawford, Tim Donaghy and the rest of the NBA's officials.
Apparently Donaghy was ignoring Crawford's calls to start the meeting. Then things got interesting:
"Crawford apparently had enough of the disrespect. He walked up to Donaghy and slapped him across the face. The left-handed Donaghy took one step back, wound up, and dropped Joe Crawford with a left hook."
"He went down like a ton of bricks," Donaghy told Tom Ley of Deadspin.com. "I will say that he has a rock-hard head, though. It felt like he had steel plates in there or something. And I give him credit, because he popped back up and was ready to go."
Cuban never followed through on his plans to do something about the perceived injustices his team suffered in 2006, but I suspect he'll feel just a bit better about the whole thing when he reads about Crawford getting knocked on his back—even if the guy delivering the blow, Donaghy, has been persona non grata in NBA circles since his 2007 betting scandal rocked the league.
For what it's worth, the NBA is making a concerted effort to promote transparency in its officiating. There'll continue to be the inevitable missed calls and replay controversies, but we should also expect to see more honesty about mistakes, more accountability and, eventually, more integrity.
During this postseason alone, we've already seen admissions from the league office about missed calls and press releases explaining officials' rationale on controversial decisions.
It won't help Cuban get that 2006 ring back, but at least we can rest assured the NBA is moving in the right direction with its officiating issues.