This is about all I can take. I am freakin' PISSED off! I feel upset, I feel angry, and most of all I feel abused... and let me tell you why...
Many people are huge sports fans.... but me... I have never really enjoyed any sport or sporting league as much as I have enjoyed the National Basketball Association. I have really been a lucky fan of the game in my eyes. I was fortunate enough to grow up watching the greatest athlete of all time, Michael Jordan, throughout all his accomplishments whether is be scoring titles, MVP's, or winning six championships and today I am able to watch every game of his successor, Lebron James, and I can only imagine the milestones he will surpass. It's safe to say, NBA has always been my true pride and joy.
But the day that Tim Donoghy popped up on my TV screen last summer, that all changed. Suddendly I began to feel like a proud father, who watched his son become so extremely successful only to find out that his business is really only a cover up of a much uglier way of making money through crime, greed and deceit.
For years, my cousin, also a huge fan of the game, but a Detoirt Pistons fan would tell me that in his eyes many of the NBA games were fixed and could be decided ultimately by the referees. For instance, when the cavs finally beat Detroit in a series that went seven games last year putting us in the finals against the Spurs, my cousin demanded that the series was fixed. If you recall, the Cavs were down 2-0 after the first two games of the series. After the cavs finally prevailed after seven games, and overcoming that 2 game deficit, my cousin demanded that the series was fixed for a couple of reasons. 1- that the longer the series goes, the more money the NBA gets, therefore, the referees call the games so in the end it will be a tight series, which builds interest and generates more cash.
I never laughed so hard in my life. He was trying to tell me, the official's employed by a professional sporting organization made calls based on generating the most marketing dollars for the league rather than calling calls based on what is actually taking place in the game. I would like at him like a soar loser. A man who loved his Pistons and just saw Lebron take over a series single handedly and put an end to the Pistons championship dreams. A soar loser was just salty his team lost.... or was there more to it?
That question was answered like a smack to my face last summer when Donoghy's face popped up on my TV screen on sports center. Donaghy was fixing games!!! They didn't say what the extent of it was.. but the cat was out the bag. At least one referee reiterated what my cousin has told me all along. Referees are fixing games... the the extent, I did not know, but I then had to face the fact that my cousins allegations were true and the integrity of the game I hold so close to my heart was tarnished. Tarnished yes... but nothing close to betrayal I felt as an avid fan who backed up the NBA for years. It was as though my brother was on trial for a crime he swore he did not commit and after I backed him up to all my friends and family who believed he did commit the crime, evidence is brought up in court that proves without a doubt that the crime was indeed commited by my brother.
The question for NBA fans changed. It was no longer, are referees fixing games? There are now a series of questions that are being asked, like... how many games were fixed? How many referees fixed them? What referees fixed them? Which games were fixed? How long have referees been fixing games? What was their motive for fixing the game or games?
With Donaghy's sentencing coming up in the next couple of weeks, his back is against the wall, and he is now giving the FBI more and more information about what he knows when it comes to referees fixing games. First he came out and said that he fixed NBA games that he refereed, in order to cover betting spreads and the high-low. Then he came out and said that he not only called games in to cover spreads, but the he changed outcomes of games and even a couple playoff series' were decided because of his lying whistle. It did not stop there. He then came out and said that he has fixing these games for the past three years, and had co conspirators that helped with his cause, including other referees and coaches.
His most recent allegation was that in 2002, game six of the western conference finals between LA and Sacramento was fixed so that LA would win and ultimately the series would go a full seven. I remember this series like it was yesterday. Mike Bibby, Vlade, Jason Williams, Chris Webber and Doug Christie were all on the Kings, against Kobe, Shaq, Fox, and of course Big Shot Robert Horry of the Lakers. Donaghy claims that not only did he have other referees to help change the outcome of a game, but that these referees were well known senior referees Dick Bavetta and Danny Crawford!!!! In this game, the Lakers couldn't hit a shot throughout, but in the fourth quarter they rallied and made a comeback winning the game by 4 points in the end. Why is this so significant? Because the Lakers shot 27 of their 40 foul shots for that game in the fourth quarter. They could not hit a shot for their lives, but with the referees calling a game so much in the Lakers favor, it was impossible for the kings to win! After all, they only shot 25 totally free-throws in the whole game, less than the Lakers shot in just the fourth alone. If the Lakers shot that many free throws each quarter, they would have scored more than 100 points from the free throw line alone... COME ON NOW... the kings COULDN'T win that game.
What was once a sport that I felt was built on integrity was starting to look more and more shady and parallels perfectly with what my cousin had been telling me for years.
Now, after all, this happened last year. The sports nation is looking at the NBA with a magnified glass, so there is no possible way this could happen again this year right? I mean after all, more and more people are becoming skeptics of the game and believers in the referee conspiracies, and rightfully so. Ultimately, this year then, has to be 100% clean, right? Not quite.
It seems as through its all happening again. The NBA has exactly what they want, a series that has the two biggest sports markets playing in it. The Boston Celtics, and The Los Angeles Lakers. The table was all set, the NBA has the two biggest money making teams in the biggest stage the NBA has to offer, the NBA championship... coincidence? Maybe. But how about this....
In the first two games, the foul discrepancies were huge. In game two, the Celtics won the game yes... but why? Again we point to the referees. The Celtics took 38 foul shots, and the Lakers took only 10 the whole game. Yet, the next game, when the Lakers were down 2-0, in game three, which was basically a must win for the Lakers, Kobe went to the line over and over, and by the end of the fourth quarter it seemed as though the tides had turned, only this time the Lakers were going to the line over and over. Not only that, but a huge dunk that sealed the comeback win for the Lakers by Rodmonivic was a huge travel!!! He stopped dribbling at half court, and somehow dunked the ball without the refs calling a traveling violation? Coincidence or did the NBA need the Lakers to win that game to get that seven game series that people of the NBA office so much desired.
My biggest problem is David Stern is not being STERN enough!!! If the integrity of my league was in jeopardy, I would be much more adamant in fixing this problem, or trying to at least than Stern. He sort of laughs it off, and tells us that it is a one man incident, sort of downsizing this catastrophe. Stern claims that Donoghy is a convicted felon who's back in against the wall. A man who is making allegations such as the 2002 game 6 allegation, that are totally false and erroneous. He claims Donoghy is a desperate man who is putting out false allegations in a desperate attempt to shorten his sentence and that there are no truth to these allegations.
That is a bunch of balogna. Stern needs to put his foot down and put it down hard. Rather than telling us, the fans, that it was a one man indicent and that there is no referee conspiracy, he needs to assure the loyal fans of his game that he is on the verge of losing that there is no way that this is going to happen again, and I have a couple of suggestions....
One. He must clean house. Get rid of every referee. Most of them, especially the highest regarded ones are way too old. Both Joey Crawford, who doesn't have a hair left on his head, and Dick Bavetta are over 70 years old.... and we expect them to keep up with athletes who are in their best shape, and call a fair game?!
Two. He should hire a referees through a company that is in no way affiliated with the NBA or paid by the NBA. Sure, Donoghy may have blown his whistle the way he wanted to help get tips on gambling on NBA games, but what about referees who are close with those in the NBA office that call games for what the office sees as "best for the NBA." For instance, making a series go 7 games for the most marketing dollars possible or blowing the whistle in favor of the bigger market team, knowing its going to generate more money. For instance, not calling that fouled on Derek Fisher against the spurs when he pretty much mugged sharp shooter Brent Barry. The Lakers are the bigger name, they bring in more dollars and interest nationwide. So why would the referee call that foul and give the Spurs another chance at making it to the finals? Especially after last year, when the Spurs won the finals, they had the lowest number of viewers in near NBA history.
Three. A panel of skeptics, such as Jeff Van Gundy, and Mark Cuban should be put together to interview possible referee hires. Van Gundy and Cuban have been public about their take on the referee scandal. By skeptics interviewing potential referee NBA hireees, their is less of a chance of shady business.
Four. This being most important. Stern needs to put a heavy fist down. Rather than being so sure that this is an isolated incident and the Donoghy acted alone, assure me that is so. Tell me that Donoghy might have been the only conspirator, but I am watching closely... real closely, and if I even THINK that a referee is trying to fix a game, I will step in and punish this referee harshly. I was to know that there is zero tolerance. But Stern does not do this, and that presents a huge problem for two reasons. He does not scare the referees who may be involved as he assures everyone he does not believe anyone else is a suspect. Also, he does not assure the avid fan that this CAN NOT POSSIBLY HAPPEN AGAIN!.
Step it up STERN.. be more STERN.. the world is watching.. or everyone is going to lose interest. More and more people are starting to be skeptical. Next thing you know, people will not be able to distinguish the sport of basketball in the NBA from the entertainment offered by the WWF.
I leave you with this quote from writer Bud Shaw of the Cleveland Plain Dealer in regard to this issue. "It's fair to ask, if Stern knew nothing about Donaghy's conduct beforehand, how can he still be so sure that other ref's now are clean?" You think about it... Stern can't be sure, but he can be more Stern.
For more on this story from me, listen to my converstaion with Bruce Drennan on this show "All Bets Are Off" on Sports Time Ohio. Download it now!