July 25, 2007

A League in Trouble

Bill Simmons on the NBA-Donaghy scandal:

Guilty or innocent, we will never watch an NBA game the same way. He's going to hang over everything -- every referee, every shaky outcome, every bad call -- in ways the average fan doesn't fully realize yet. Maybe they'll throw Donaghy in jail, maybe they won't, but he'll linger over every court like a black cloud. You'll hear his name more than you think. You and your buddies will make "that guy looks like he's pulling a Donaghy!" jokes every time a referee is making calls against your favorite team. Hecklers will gleefully play the Donaghy card after every bad call against the home team. For honest referees still working games, it doesn't matter what happens from this point on -- their collective integrity will always be questioned, their collective track record won't matter, and that will be that.

So that's one problem. The second problem is more complex. When news of the scandal broke on Friday, as J.A. Adande pointed out in his column on ESPN.com that day, every diehard NBA fan had the same reaction. They weren't thinking, "I can't believe it!" or "Oh my God, how could this happen?" They were thinking, "Which one was it?" This was like finding out that your grandfather who smoked three packs a day for 50 years just came down with lung cancer. It was sad but inevitable. It was only a matter of time.

Simmons details how Tim Donaghy may have compromised the 2007 NBA Finals with his work in Game 3 of the Spurs-Suns series:

Imagine being a Suns fan right now. You just spent the past two months believing that your team got screwed by the Stoudemire/Diaw suspensions, that you would have won Game 1 if Nash didn't get hurt, that you would have taken Game 3 if you hadn't been screwed by the officials, that you would have cruised in Game 5 if two of your best guys weren't suspended for running toward their best player as he lay in a crumpled heap. Now it looks like an allegedly compromised referee worked Game 3.

Well, how much did Donaghy affect the game? How many calls did he whistle on Stoudemire? How many of Bowen's potential fouls did he not call? Was he the seemingly incompetent schmuck who made that three-seconds-too-late call on Ginobili? Did Tim Donaghy cost you that game?

If David Stern wants to do right by the fans, then he should order NBA TV to rerun the tape of Game 3. We need answers. We need to know for sure. Hell, they can start a series called "NBA Hardwood Classics: The Tim Donaghy Collection" and we'll spend the rest of the summer combing through games and figuring out how many Donaghy could have fixed. Like Game 6 of the Raptors-Nets series, which New Jersey won by a point in the final seconds. Did he swing that one? What about Game 2 of the Orlando-Detroit series, when the Magic rallied for a late cover in the final seconds with Donaghy jogging around? What about the Heat-Knicks game from last February in which the Knicks were given a 39-8 free-throw advantage and covered a 4.5-point spread by 1.5 points? Did Donaghy call those two technical fouls on the Miami coaches? Is there footage of Pat Riley screaming at him?

As Simmons says, it's David Stern's worst nightmare. And it's a pretty ugly period for professional sports in general. Major League Baseball can't decide it its commissioner should be party to a drug-tainted superstar breaking the record of a legend. The NFL has one of its superstar-millionaires under indictment for operating a dog-fighting enterprise. And an NBA ref is found to be a crook. Bring on college football.

Posted by dan at July 25, 2007 11:56 PM