Like any great relationship that comes to an unfortunate end, one can usually pinpoint the exact moment that caused everything to go horribly, horribly wrong. For me and the NBA, that turning point was the 2006 NBA finals, when the Dallas Mavericks faced off against the Miami Heat…and the officials.
Like a friend’s warning about all the ways a partner is no good for you that you just refuse to listen to, I witnessed everything non-fans hate about the NBA, things that until then I had defended, being displayed right before my eyes. You’ve heard the complaints:
Stars always get the calls. Traveling is never called. Officials swallow their whistles in the final minute of games (unless a star gets breathed on, of course). The officiating is dreadfully inconsistent at best and dreadful at worst.
The 2006 proved it all to be true. Dwayne Wade propelled himself toward the basket like a full back on fourth and goal. He wasn’t so much trying to get a shot off as he was looking for somebody to plow in to. He won the 2006 championship from the foul line. Since then, every marquee player in the league has tried to follow this style of play during crunch time. Why wouldn’t they? Time after time, the stars get the calls.
It seemed as if now the WWE was less predictable than any NBA game featuring Dwayne Wade, Kobe Bryant, LeBron James or whichever second coming of Michael Jordan the league was trying to push. This travesty of so called “officiating” cost the Dallas Mavericks, and their radical owner Mark Cuban, a championship in 2006. More devastatingly perhaps, it cost me, and thousands of fans like me, a lot of love for the game itself.
The NBA’s biggest image problem is not the color of the majority of its players, or tattoos, or dress codes, or hip-hop culture, or perceived lawlessness or tweeting during halftime. The NBA’s biggest problem is a style of officiating that not only angers fans, but alienates them.
Perhaps this official lock out is the impetus the league needs to take a hard look at the way its game is officiated. Maybe then I, and many folks like me, will take a look at returning to a game we grew up loving. Maybe then, like with any good relationship, that old flame can be rekindled.