Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Mavericks: Just Because I'm Paranoid Doesn't Mean They're Not Out to Get Me

I love basketball. It's a great sport. Fast, smart, skilled, and teamwork wins games. Individual talent matters, but team matters more.

And then there are the refs. All sports have refs, but basketball has them literally in the mix, on every play, watching for split second actions everywhere. The refs get bumped and pushed out of bounds and talked to and jawed at and plead with right during the action. Up and down the court, players will beg, cajole and whisper encouragement "good call ref" or "come on ref, he was all over me" or "did you see that hip nudge? it threw off the shot" or "he's camping in the lane ref, come on!" The incessant nattering goes on all game long.

I've referreed basketball games in college men's intramural leagues. Not the big time, obviously, not Little League either. Big men, with egos, some with ability and a few with nasty mean streaks. Even with a 6'2" guy with control issues yelling in my face, I was never really afraid. I've been a player and angry and even thrown a little temper tantrum here and there. So I got it when someone wasn't happy with me. As a ref, I made boneheaded calls, everyone does. Mostly my reffing would probably earn me a "B". The reffing interests me. I like to see how they handle the tight spots.

Many games hinge on a crucial call. Often, they hinge on a crucial bad call. For example, Dallas Maverick's owner Mark Cuban went apoplectic about feathery contact that resulted in a two-shot foul as a Miami player drove to the basket in the last moments of the game. This call made the difference. Miami won. Cuban went nuts. He called the refs naughty names. He made less than becoming remarks about NBA Commissioner David Stern. He got slapped with a $250,000 fine.

Cuban has also been slapped by sportswriters essentially saying "stop being a big, fat baby", get over it, have some self-control, stop being a "know-it-all", and win. My High School coach said essentially this, "Win big. Don't let the game come down to the last seconds and depend on a good referee." The truth, in this case, is that Dallas had Miami backpeddling and they couldn't hold off the streak by Dwayne Wade. They just could not.

But just because Cuban is paranoid and Mav's Coach Avery Johnson is raging, doesn't necessarily mean they might not have a point. When discussing the whole issue my husband said, "Who stands to gain most if Miami wins?" That's right. Follow the money. Shaquille O'Neal and upstart Dwayne Wade make a photogenic pair, do they not? How great would it be for Shaq to get another ring, to stick it in L.A.'s eye and to burnish Pat Riley's already phenomenal career? Great, huh? Great for fans, great obviously for Miami, and great for David Stern and the NBA.

It's no secret that the NBA has yearned for superstars in the Jordan-Magic-Bird category. All you have to do is look at NBA advertisements. The clips used are of the glory days, which would be fifteen years ago: Celtics vs. Lakers, Motown vs. Showtown, Bulls vs. Anybody. Jordan, Magic, Bird, Isaiah, with a little of this and that thrown in. What's up with that? I'll tell you what's up. Kids like Kobe Bryant come out of High School or as Freshman, get paid a lump sum and turn into indulged babies. Winning is secondary to personal glory. Yuck. Even before the rape thing, Kobe was insufferable. He still is. Shaq for all his bigness and disarming smile is a lug and doesn't have the sparkle of Magic, stoic work-ethic of Bird or gamesmanship of Jordan.

So that's where the refs come into play. Not wanting to indulge in a conspiracy theory or anything, it sure has seemed over the years that certain teams are given the benefit of the doubt. A LOT. This especially happens at home and with "stars". Nearly every close call goes Shaq's way. He can throw that butt of his around with abandon and know that he will get away with it. Don't lecture me about "hack a Shaq". I know. And those hacks get called--every single time.

It seems to me that the refs manipulate the momentum of the games when it will extend the series, extend the game and make for better ratings. This all makes more money. This makes everyone happy except the team on the losing end, the fans on the losing end and those of us (and I don't really give a rat's fanny about the outcome of the series since my team is already out of it) interested in a game of integrity.

I don't like the ref being the "sixth man", ON PURPOSE. Sometimes it happens. Sometimes teams are like rambling wrecks and earn a foul every time down the court. That is not what I'm talking about. I'm talking about calling tic-tak stuff to swing the outcome. After watching the NBA for years, it happens. It happens in big games. It happens more than it should and it is annoying as all heck.

Now, Mark Cuban does seem to have a screw loose upstairs, maybe even a little paranoid. But just 'cuz he's paranoid, doesn't mean they're not out to get him.

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