Kobe's Play: the Product of Biased NBA officiating

Max FischerCorrespondent IMay 30, 2008

Many people are under the impression that because Kobe's number of free throws dropped so dramatically in the Lakers-Spurs series that the refs were actually biased against Kobe rather than biased for him. 

This couldn't be further from the truth. 

A player's amount of free throws alone means nothing when determining if a player has been officiated properly.  You could have a player break the record set for free throws in a playoff run, as Dirk Nowitzki did in the Mavs run to the finals, and it still means nothing in how a player is officiated.

The reason Kobe had no foul shots is because the spurs had come to the conclusion that fouling Kobe.. or making any contact with him is suicide. The Spurs defenders were literally running away from Kobe.

Please do me a favor. Watch both the Mavs' series where the Mavs faced the Spurs and went on to the Finals, and watch this Lakers series, and specifically, watch how the Spurs defend Dirk versus how they defend Kobe in these two series.

Two completely opposite gameplans for these star players. With Dirk, the Spurs are as physical as possible. Hitting him constantly throughout the series. With Kobe they are literally running away from him and trying NOT to touch him. So, why would they do this? It's not because Kobe is a better scorer than Dirk. If that was the case, the Lakers wouldn't have been so willing to trade Kobe FOR Dirk in the off season as Cuban stated they were in a recent interview.  And if Kobe was that much better of a scorer than Dirk, Cuban would have made the deal for him and traded Dirk.

So, why would the Spurs not touch Kobe at all and beat on Dirk all day long? Because Kobe will get 150% of the calls if you play him physical. Kobe will get calls when no one even touches him. He will get a call every single time anyone even comes near him. Because the NBA refs give guys like Kobe, LeBron, and Wade preferential treatment.

It is the complete opposite with Dirk. With Dirk, it PAYS to foul him. It pays because the refs are literally only going to call about 5% of the fouls and contact on him. It pays to foul Dirk because eventually you are going to have Dirk with so many freethrows that NBA fans and the media will say Dirk is getting preferential treatment because he is white and because the NBA wants a white player to advance. When it's actually the complete opposite. What takes the hit is Dirk's FG%, because he is getting fouled repeatedly and not allowed to play his game. And the impact of this is huge. It allows one player to defend Dirk rather than double or triple teams, which impedes the offense and prevents the other Mavs from scoring. 

And the way Kobe is officated does the complete opposite for his teammates. They are getting wide open three pointers constantly and layups because you need multiple defenders to defend Kobe, because unlike with Dirk, one guy isn't allowed to foul Kobe constantly.

Whats even worse about this though, is that Dirk is a better shooter than Kobe.. he's a better post player than Kobe. He is even a better free throw shooter than Kobe. In fact.. I truly believe.. Dirk is a bigger mismatch on the perimeter at the power forward position than Kobe is at to the players at his position -- guys Kobe's size. By allowing a guy Bowen's size to foul Dirk and take him out of the game, the refs are taking that advantage away.

The scary part though is that there is no way to change this. A player like Kobe or Wade is treated like Michael Jordan just because they were fortunate enough to play with Shaq and because they fit the stereotype of a great basketball player -- not white like Dirk and Nash. Watch the Suns' series to see how Bruce Bowen guards Steve Nash compared to Kobe as well.

The problem with the NBA is that fouls can't be proved.  It's all subjective.  And because of this the NBA has to be a popularity contest.  Kobe was very fortunate to play with Shaq early on in his career. Not unlike Duncan with David Robinson.  Both Kobe and Duncan are officiated differently than other players  because of this. They were perceived as great players right out of the gate because of this.

Look at Shaq, it took him playing with Phil Jackson, and Phil had to do some heavy politicking early on with the refs and through the media to get Shaq officated the way he wanted him officiated.  Then, when Shaq won his first championship, the flood gates were opened and Shaq got all the calls he wanted.  You rarely ever saw Phil complaining about officiating after Shaq won his first championship. Because the genie was out of the bottle.   And Kobe got that same biased officiating from that point on as well.

The reality is that the Lakers getting Pau Gasol didn't just make Kobe's life easier. It made the refs lives easier, too.  Because they had been trying to get the Lakers and Kobe to the finals the whole time. Simply because it was the popular thing to do. 


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