Tim Donaghy Is Scum, But David Stern's NBA Still Has a Referee Problem

Sean CroweSenior Writer IJune 14, 2008

The following article was originally published on Thursday, June 12 on Sports-Central.org.

The NBA may be fantastic (though that point is entirely debatable), but its officials are not.

In fact, they're quite the opposite.

Headlined by Violet Palmer, Bennett Salvatore, and Joey Crawford, this group of incompetent zebras actually make it easy to believe a scumbag like Tim Donaghy when he says that the NBA is using their officials to help "fix" games.

I don't buy for a second most of what Tim Donaghy says about the NBA. I do not believe officials threw games (except, maybe, for Donaghy himself). I do not believe the NBA targets players or teams in an effort to maximize TV revenue. I do not believe there are officials who give calls and miss calls simply because they're good company men.

I just don't buy it.

As much (or as little) as you think of David Stern, even he couldn't pull off a conspiracy on this level without any word of it leaking out. The sheer number of people who would have to have been involved is staggering. To think that none of them would have written a tell-all book by now, especially in the world we live in today, is naïve bordering on ridiculous.

The problem with the NBA isn't crooked officials, it's bad officials.

Terrible officials.

Insanely awful, unspeakably incompetent officials.

The NBA has a problem. Their officials have been a problem for years. Highlighted by the Lakers-Kings Game Six from 2002, the entire 2007 Heat-Mavs Finals, any game involving LeBron James, and now both Games Two and Three of what was supposed to be the NBA's dream Finals.

The NBA not only refuses to admit there's a problem, but fines anyone under its control who even broaches the subject.

Then, to make matters worse, it does what it did in Game Three, which is just par for the course in David Stern's NBA.

The very day allegations of fixing games arose, the league assigned Joey Crawford to Game Three of the NBA Finals. The same Joey Crawford who famously ejected Tim Duncan for laughing on the Spurs' bench, then challenged him to a fight. Only to find himself suspended indefinitely by the NBA.

As ESPN.com's Jemele Hill wrote:

And that typifies what's wrong with the NBA. This is why some people are willing to entertain Donaghy's wild accusations rather than accepting Stern's firm denials. A referee who was once suspended indefinitely because of a personal beef with Tim Duncan, who had to resign from the NBA because he pled guilty to falsely stating his income, is back in the league and officiating on the NBA's biggest stage.

Then you have Thursday night's crucial Game Four. The NBA, we all assume, would have loved for the Lakers to tie up the series. The longer this goes, after all, the better it is for the NBA.

Conspiracy theorists rejoice, because the NBA didn't disappoint. Two of the three officials they assigned to Thursday night's game were noted "home-friendly" officials. In games officiated by Joe DeRosa and Tom Washington, the home teams carry a stunning .650 winning percentage (104-56).

In fairness, the third official, Steve Javie, was a more "even" official. The home team only carries a .550 winning percentage in games he officiates.

So why, while under this scrutiny, would the NBA assign a team of "home-friendly" officials in a game that they desperately wanted the home team to win?

Some would say that it doesn't pass the smell test—but it's far worse than that. It's not that the NBA is a devious criminal enterprise bent on maximizing profits at all cost, it's that it's a criminally incompetent enterprise in the process of destroying itself.

The NBA refuses to acknowledge the scrutiny and dismisses anyone who does. It's business as usual for the NBA, which means the playoff referee rotation goes on as if nothing was happening. With so many bad NBA officials, the odds were good that at least two of them would end up officiating this game.

Good officials can be influenced by a loud home crowd. It's human nature and can't be helped. Bad officials, of which the NBA has an abundance, lack the ability to be objective in a playoff environment. It's a big part of the home/away disparity in this season's playoffs. The Celtics are allowed to play physical, pressure defense at home. On the road, the games are called differently and they're forced to adjust and play a less aggressive style.

You just don't see this type of stuff in other sports. The strike zone is the same when Josh Beckett pitches in Boston as it is in New York. Holding is holding whether Matt Light is playing at home, or in Indianapolis.

The NBA needs to acknowledge that it has a problem. It needs to take Phil Jackson's suggestion and look into setting up an outside authority to oversee the NBA's officials. It needs younger, better officials who understand today's game and today's players.

It needs to do something. Because until it does something, every Tom, Dick, and Bill Simmons wannabe will continue claiming that the NBA uses its officials to influence the outcome of games.

Is that really what David Stern wants me writing about during his "Dream Finals?"

Probably not.

Sean Crowe is a Senior Writer at Bleacher Report. You can email him at scrowe@gmail.com. His archive can be found here. You can find everything he writes, including articles for other publications, here.