NBA Can Only Blame Itself For Skepticism

After one huge blown call and a whistle-happy Game Four, fans' skepticism is based in league's questionable history

In May of 2002, the Los Angeles Lakers “defeated” the Sacramento Kings in the sixth game of the Western Conference finals to advance to the NBA championship.
Those quotation marks are necessary because this will, probably, go down as the worst officiating in the history of the NBA, and probably any of the other major American sports. Los Angeles shot 27 free throws in the fourth quarter alone, and Mike Bibby was called for a crucial foul late, presumably because his head got in the way of Kobe Bryant’s elbow.
Five years later, we learned that the NBA had at least a few skeletons in its closet. Tim Donaghy, who has since traded in his gray refereeing shirt for a state-mandated orange, asserted in a statement that some games were manipulated under the instruction of the league.
Donaghy even named the aforementioned game in his prepared statement.
Whether or not what Donaghy said has any validity is of little consequence. We know that the NBA was operating under false pretenses at least to some degree, and the ratings for the finals actually went up the year after the scandal. Of course, this could be, at least partly, due to the fact that last year’s finals were a match-up of two major-market powerhouses.
But in a larger sense, this means that people will continue watching the NBA with full knowledge that something may be amiss. The scandal in 2007 confirmed what a great deal of conspiracy theorists had though all along, and effectively ensured that the NBA would be forever without the benefit of the doubt. In performance-art speak, the willful suspension of disbelief has been shattered.
And yet, people still watch.
The fact is, the NBA’s betting scandal is not unlike baseball’s steroid scandal, in that we don’t know, and probably never will know, the degree to which it affected the games we watched in blissful ignorance.
When Dallas fans cried foul on Saturday, they did so with good reason; this was a monumental gaffe on par with Ed Hochuli’s no-fumble call last year in San Diego. Of course, this is categorically worse, as it occurred during the playoffs, at the end of what could have been a series-changing contest.
Perhaps if the NBA’s nose was clean, or even just a little bit cleaner than it is, we could have chalked it up to a mistake; nothing more and nothing less. But the NBA did this to themselves. It would be short-sighted to say that Dallas fans’ skepticism is baseless in any sense.
Assuming that Dallas could have held on if the foul-call was made on Saturday, the series would be tied at two. Instead, of course, we are at 3-1, watching Dallas attempt to do what has never been done before—sweep the final four games of a series after going down three—against a team whose record against the Mavericks is now 7-1 on the season.
As the series shifts back to Denver, just about anyone in Dallas will meet the contest with sideways-skepticism, and I wish I could say they weren’t justified. But after the no-call that will live in infamy on Saturday, officials took to calling any and everything on Monday; a technical on Antoine Wright for silently gesturing to the official what he felt had happened on a play; Josh Howard being called for a flagrant when he was obviously going for the ball.
These instances will only fuel our skepticism further and, again, the NBA has no one to blame but themselves. The series, in all likelihood, should be tied at 2-2. The city of Dallas is mad.
But the kicker in all this is that the NBA doesn’t care. Such a scandal as the one in 2007 should have had the league in deep trouble, but it didn’t; because we still elect to watch, when our team takes the floor.
Regardless of how bad the officiating gets (and it has been pretty bad), don’t expect any change until people stop watching the games and stop buying the products.
That is, if you’re hoping for change, don’t hold your breath.

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