We have all seen it.
The game is tied with less than a minute to play. The star player has the ball in his hands and subsequently has five fouls to his name. Said star player drives to the basket and is met by a defender, who is more or less a role player, trying to draw the charge.
The defenders feet are set and the star player plows him to the ground.
What does the referee do?
They give the star player "the star treatment" and elect to penalize the defender for a block.
Isn't there a rule book you should go by?
Why is it that the league allows the game to be dictated by those on the court?
Last year the NBA brought in 3.2 billion dollars in basketball related income. They filled the seats at 17,497 people per contest, and will continue to try and do so.(1)
David Stern and his organization rely on yearly revenue to keep the doors open, as does every other business in the world, using the players as the product and the fans as the consumers.
If you have watched television in the past ten years you would notice that the league does their best to sell the stars and teams within the larger cities in the United States, trying to entice the average NBA fan to tune in whenever said star is in action.
With the league relying on the star players to bring in new fans and hold existing ones, the players must play spectacularly to keep the average viewer entertained.
Even the greatest players have off nights and sometimes go through cold spells that can last days.
Give the best players special treatment and allow them to get away with more because the league has a certain financial interest in them or the city they represent. The league wants the stars to succeed and they want them to show their talent every night because that brings them money.
I get it, really I do.
It's a business, the league is doing their best to make as much money as they can (as they should) and will do everything it takes to bring in new fans (as they should), but when you have a set of rules, you should stick to it. When you deviate from the rule book and designate certain players to have preferential treatment over others, you turn into (almost) nothing more than an organization like World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE).
What the league is doing right now is different than playing games with a set outcome. The players from the small market team such as San Antonio and Portland can beat the teams in major cities such as Los Angeles and Dallas.
But when the league has the chance to please a larger group of consumers in a home game, more often than not, the team in which the league has the most invested in will prevail.
It is a game of competition affected by the interests of the league.
Why should Kobe, LeBron, Carmelo, Dwight, Wade, Durant, Roy, or Dirk get calls more often than other players beside the fact that they are being more aggressive or earning the foul shots they are being given?
"Tim Donaghy was with the NBA for 13 seasons before resigning in 2007 amid reports of an investigation by the FBI for allegations that at the time he bet on games that he officiated during his last two seasons and made calls that would affect the point spread. Donaghy pleaded guilty to two federal charges and was ultimately released last November after serving 15 months in prison. (2)"
"... made calls that would affect the point spread"
No way no how am I saying that the NBA is a completely corrupt league. I am not saying that the league is dealing with the mafia and fixing games to line their pockets.
What I am saying is that the league wants certain headlines and they will try to influence the game towards their desired outcome.
Both Tim Donaghy and David Stern have done that. Albeit that Davids methods were a lot more subtle, but they both were (and still are) influencing games.
In Donaghy's book, Personal foul, he is asked about the leagues influence on the refs and their supposed go to man in Dick Bavetta. (3)
"... I would tell you that I wrote about it in the book. I had many conversations with Dick Bavetta and he claimed that he was the NBA's go-to guy and he was put on certain games to make sure a certain team win."
For all it's worth, I believe him. I don't just think it is one man, I think the league influences a lot of what the referees do in games.
Donaghy was wrong. He acted criminally and challenged the integrity of the game to line his pockets.
David Stern has been heading down a shaky path over the past couple of years and like Tim Donaghy, is challenging the integrity of the game by letting their motives affect the game to their favor.
It is wrong.
But who's to stop it?
Who is complaining?
The big markets are granted special treatment over the small dogs and the stars are granted calls in big situations while others are not.
I don't see why the league has to run their business like this.
The English Premier league has shown genuine neutrality in each and ever fixture that takes place under their name.
The National Football league has shown that the fans can count on them to provide the fans with a genuine contest where both teams are given as much as they earn.
The Nation Hockey League has done it as well.
Why can't you David Stern?
I'm sick of this star treatment. I want to watch a game and understand that it is an equal competition between two teams.
Because for all it's worth, you are slowly losing a fan.
But that isn't enough to effect the bottom line, is it?
Photo courtesy of Sports Illustrated