Monday, June 17, 2002

REVENGE OF GAME SIX: Plain Dealer column on the subject; weeks after the fact, of course, but I am trying to follow this story:

I'm not a conspiracy theory guy. Conspiracy buffs are probably drawing lines from the bent envelope corner in the Patrick Ewing lottery to Michael Jordan's push-off of Byron Russell to the fourth quarter of Game 6 of the Kings-Lakers series to devil worship by Proctor and Gamble to John Nash in "A Beautiful Mind," going quietly nuts.

But Game 6 was the worst-officiated big game I ever saw.

The sixth foul on Scot Pollard and the fifth on Vlade Divac were mythical. There was no contact at all. They helped disqualify the Kings' two best low-post defenders against Shaquille O'Neal. In what became a travesty, the Lakers either scored or went to the line. They shot 27 free throws in the last quarter to the Kings' nine. The Lakers made 34 field goals and four 3-pointers to the Kings' 38 and eight 3s, yet they won Game 6, 106-102.

Referees Dick Bavetta, Bob Delaney and Ted Bernhardt rank with Cole, Bob and Jim Younger as notorious thieves. The great flaw of basketball is that referees have too much latitude to determine how the game is played. (It also holds for baseball umpires. Remember those "outside strikes" by Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine in the 1995 World Series, which the Indians couldn't have reached with oars?) Coaches and players who criticize refs are fined. The NBA is judge and jury for its own officials, and bad performances are simply covered up. I don't know how you fix it, either.

But I do know the NBA is a league that ridiculously fined the Cavs $150,000 and suspended coach John Lucas for two games for inviting high school superstar LeBron James to a workout. The punishment seemed too much for the crime, since Jordan, a part-owner in Washington, had done the same the year before. NBA vice president Russ Granik haughtily refused to discuss the Jordan case, increasing the perception of favoritism. In the LeBron James case, the NBA could say it was trying to discourage high school players from skipping college. It's a worthy cause.

So would be docking the three blind mice of Game 6. Nothing less is at stake than public belief that the league is on the level.

Via SLAM LINKS. Mark Cuban advocates docking the refs for bad performances too, but I guess the NBA feels like that would call the whole game into question. But the whole game already is in question...

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