Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Impurities in the Blood

At the risk of drowning in my own naiveté, I’ll admit the whole Tim Donaghy revelation really saddens me. Some of the more lucid thinkers out there would encourage me to just take a frank and honest look at the corruption that has infected nearly every facet of American society and deal with it. Others want to use this as a rallying cry, a potentially progressive moment in which we can break open the whisky barrels and collectively sober up. But I can’t help but feel a little lost amidst it all.

Obviously it’s completely unclear whether Donaghy’s claims are at all true. I’m very receptive to the notion that the NBA encourages referees to favor star players. Even many analysts at the worldwide leader, for all its ties to the corporate side of the Association, admit that superstars get a leg up (“Kobe would’ve gotten that call, but Barry isn’t gonna”). And the questions surrounding the refereeing in the 2002 Kings-Lakers series are well documented, so it’s not a huge leap in logic to assume he chose to mention those games for their tactical advantage rather than their truthfulness.

But we are in a wasteland of trust. How many times have you heard someone casually mention that the NBA will never let the Finals go less than six games? And last night, as the Lakers repeatedly got to the line in the 1st, the reality of that statement seemed all too clear. It’s not just conspirators and vengeful referees making these claims. Hell, Rasheed Wallace (not that he is a beacon of reason) compared the NBA to professional wrestling. I know the Kings got screwed in 2002. I know that Brent Barry got screwed in game 4 of the Western Conference Finals this year. I don’t know if these things are calculated or merely the product of poor officiating.

I am glad this is all rising to the top. Stern has always favored profit over principle. The details of this debate are less important than its tenor. For me this is less about the purity of the game (not to say that it isn’t) than it is about the NBA’s chickens coming home to roost. Whether or not the specifics of Donaghy’s accusation reveal themselves to be fact, we must ensure that Stern understands that the culture he has created was inevitably going to lead to this level of moral uncertainty.

Let's briefly transition from one bumbling reality to the next: The NBA Finals were awful before this whole refereeing bullshit arose. Obviously the poor officiating in game 2 has contributed to it, but in general the level of play has been underwhelming to say the least. Last night Pierce and Garnett played the worst games I've seen them play in a while and the Lakers still barely pulled it out. Gasol is a rag-doll in the paint. Odom is selfish, confused and unable to make a layup. Kobe played well last night, but he has yet to even come close to his full potential. The Celtics' frontcourt bench is making a mockery of the Lakers' frontcourt. Vladimir Radmonovic... I don't even know where to begin with that guy. LA consistently comes off as young and undisciplined. I understand that the Lakers can play better than this, but the Celtics laid a huge egg last night and that's what LA came up with? The Lakers are not playing championship caliber ball. I swear I'm only watching these games out of some perverted sense of obligation.

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