"Who's officiating tonight?"

>> Wednesday

Am I excited about the start of the NBA season? Of course. But the reservations abound. (And it has nothing to do with crotchety arguments why the NBA doesn't seem as magical as it did when you were in fourth fucking grade.)

No, I'm not all that concerned with the Donaghy thing, though I highly doubt that the every other ref is on the up-and-up as the recent round of NBA interrogations asserts. But that isn't the root of the problem. That goes back either to a) the dawn of the league or b) the beginning of superstardom in the NBA.

I'm mildly worried that another official on the take is going to impact a game or a playoff series. Who couldn't be? But it's one official--one official with limited chances to screw a certain team in over the course of a game.

My problem, as it's always been, is with the officials in general and their indelible impact on the game. Basketball may be the toughest sport to officiate. It's judgment call upon judgment call upon judgment non-call. The standards are necessarily vague, and thus, the power of the officiating crew is immense. And yet, the overlords aren't entirely powerless, but they sure do act like it.

I'm not sure I will ever take either of the last two NBA Finals seriously. I don't think any honest man can. In retrospect, the same might be true of the Bulls' fifth and sixth titles.

Tell me--What good is a championship when the officials give it to you? Or, to a lesser extent, the chance to play for one? Others may disagree, but I don't see that as much of an achievement.

Listen--I think Dwyane Wade is a great, stupendous, awesome guy like everyone does (especially those of us who went to Marquette). I'm also endlessly impressed with what LeBron has been able to do coming into the league as a freaking child and keeping his head so much better than any of the rest of us could and immediately becoming the most chirismatic man in professional sports.

But they've gotten help. Did they earn 99.5% of what they've returned on sheer talent and commitment? Absolutely. But neither deserved the pinnacle moments that have thus far defined their careers.

The Dallas-Miami finals in 2006 were a travesty. As was last year's Pistons-Cavs series. Neither Wade nor LeBron could do any wrong. No wait--They could. But they'd always have the stripes to pretend otherwise.

It's rare that I don't agree 100% with Rasheed Wallace, and this was no exception:

"There's a lot of people out here who think they really beat us," Wallace said. "It was ourselves. We beat ourselves. We fell victim to the little, personal NBA thing where they're trying to make it a world game and get ratings and all that. They wanted to put their darling (LeBron James) in there, and they did put him in there. Look what ended up happening.

"So this game, this ain't basketball no more, it's entertainment. It's like WWF. Ain't no more real wrestling. All the days of Ric Flair and Rick Rude and Jake the Snake. Right now, the (expletive) is all so fake. Just like this game. It's so fake."

How are people okay with this? How do people watch LeBron pile up points in overtime of a conference finals game with free throws that he didn't earn and not get frustrated?

People rip 'Sheed for overreacting late in Game 6 of that series, but if I were him, I doubt I've even been that civil. The Pistons had just endured a fuckover of a series like I've never seen, and yet they managed to neither attack anyone nor destroy any expensive equipment on the court. I don't think I'd have had such control.

Why does the NBA have to be like this? The black sheeps will never get a fair shake in the public eye or marketing world, but shouldn't the basketball court be the one place they can? It's bullshit--just pure fucking bullshit.

And I don't see it changing. Ever. And what's worse is that we're only at the start of a very long era of NBA superstar culture. Wade and LeBron have many, many years ahead of them. Duncan's not done either.

I still love the NBA. But yeah, it's gotten hard. I usually embrace the adaptations of a league and tell people to come off it when they try to say, "It's not like it used to be." But this is different. It's not progress; it's regression. It's not a natural adaptation; it's the blatant stiffling of natural adaptation. And it pisses me off.

I hope this season can prove me wrong. But my faith is dwindling.


Mike 10:57 PM  

One bad call can change the outcome of a series.

Apparently just as one misplaced stereotype can turn a proposal for an NBA-EuroLeague pre-season challenge tournament for charity into "crotchety arguments why the NBA doesn't seem as magical as it did when you were in 4th grade." Although, when you think about it, is anything as magical now as it was when we were 10?

On an unrelated point, when we were in 4th grade, that was the same year as the Hugh Hollins Bulls-Knicks Playoff non-call. Talk about one call changing a series.

Nathan 4:50 AM  

I've always been bothered by that non-call on Jordan's push-off of Byron Russell. It gets easily dismissed because people say, "You don't want the NBA championship to end like that." Plus it gave us the perfect, Hollywood ending to MJ's career (because in 2007, who really considers the Wizards stint a part of his career).

But it was a blatant foul. As obvious a call as there will ever be. And one that decided the Championship. To me, this is a perfect example of entertainment (a game-winning shot by a basketball god in his last game to win the championship) trumping fair play.

And I'll admit to having defended the officiating in the Heat-Mavs series in a bar conversation or two, but I was horribly biased because of my Marquette-love for D-Wade.

Vinnie, you're not the only one on this blog who truly loves the NBA. I have the same confliction of love for the game, but realization that it's a bunch of shit. I've even heard Bechtel promise that he will be a more devoted Bucks fan this year.

But I think I speak for a large number of NBA fans when I say "I really hope they can clean this mess up." But I remain skeptical.

Vinnie 11:06 AM  

Ok... Tell me that the lead-in to that European tournament post was not crotchety. I dare you.

Also, I don't know why I insinuated that no one here likes the NBA. Actually, we're all pretty big fans except Mike. I guess I was referring more to other people I know that don't write for this blog. My bad.

Nathan 12:17 PM  

I've got to agree with Vinnie.

"No defense. Spoiled millionaires. Music piped in during the run of play. Too slow-moving."

...those damn kids with their hip hop music and fancy clothes.

Vinnie 1:02 PM  

...and complicated shoes.

The_Overdog,  1:45 PM  

don't they have simpler shoes now? I had reebok pumps when I played b-ball. any shoes that's got a button on it that you can pump is a complicated shoe.

Zuch 3:14 PM  

I think that as long as the NBA exists as basically a one-on-one league, stars will get the calls because referees award aggressiveness. Complaints of Skiles's coaching decisions aside, I love watching the Bulls because they actually play team basketball. Unfortunately, that style of play seems doomed to falling short of getting to the NBA finals, hence the Kobe hoopla.

kid_keith,  3:18 PM  

Thank you so much for this. I have been feeling this exact same way since 2004, but have never read anything about it. You have jumped into my brain on this one.

If you look at the Pistons 2004 NBA Finals against the Lakers and then the Eastern Conference Finals loss the to the Heat you will find the calls to be completely different. In the Lakers series Ben Wallace could get away with his somewhat "hackey" style of defense... yet in the Heat series the calls where ticky tack and Wade went to the line approximately 1000 times. I have felt this way for a very long time and my faith in the NBA is at an all time low. I love the game so much, but to have refs basically steer a team to victory is insane.

Very, VERY well done Yellow Chair.

Mike 4:07 PM  

Fair enough, but when have you ever known me to NOT be a crotchety old man? And I've largely seen the error of my ways.

But I refuse to budge on the music...name one other legitimate professional sport that has music piped in DURING the run of play. College and Pro Football, College Basketball, baseball, ice hockey, soccer...sports at the college, international, and club levels...nobody. Nobody pipes in music except the NBA, and that's just stupid.

My favorite was watching a Bulls-Cavs game in the mid-90s, the Bulls were up by 20 or something with about 2 minutes to go, most of the Cleveland fans were long-gone, and the control booth starts piping in the pre-fabricated "DE-FENSE" chant. Empty stadium. Cracked me up. One step away from cardboard cutout fans.

Patrick 4:42 PM  

Now, I am not trying to toot a Bulls fan horn, but that alleged "Push off" by MJ against Byron Russell is very misconceived. If you look at it in slow mo, there really wasn't much of a push off despite what it looks like at normal speed. Plus, Russell was already beaten on the cross-over...that said I think the NBA is as much fun to watch now than it has ever been. Sure we get the instances of Wade getting a call every time he goes into the lane, but with the NBA allowing teams to run zone defenses, it has somewhat limited the one-on-one play

Patrick 4:46 PM  

Here's a video from You-Tube, watch the sideline angle of the play, Byron Russell actually slips from the court, not from MJ pushing off

...But the best part of the video is the lame music.

Patrick 4:47 PM  


Anonymous,  4:50 PM  

'Sheed seems to forget that last years lEastern Conference Finals should have been a sweep...by the Cavaliers. They beat Detroit in all 6 games, only winning 4. Detroit was lucky to escape with w's in the first two games. I am a nba die hard and that series did not even raise one eyebrow as far as officiating goes. Now Phoenix-San Antonio on the other hand...

Vinnie 4:51 PM  

Right... That's the whole point. The leauge has made all sorts of other small changes to encourage a more team-oriented, free-flowing style, but when it comes down to the nitty-gritty, it's back to the same old shit. Slash, whistle, slash, whistle, slash, whistle.

Yes, the NBA is extremely enjoyable to watch right now, minus this one, huge, glaring element.

Nathan 4:55 PM  

Sorry Pat, you're wrong. MJ's hand was clearly on Russell's ass, and he clearly gave him a shove. Yeah Byron was beat, but Jordan's push cheated him of any chance to recover and at least get a hand in his face.

If Ben Gordan tried that move it would be Utah ball, game over.

Vinnie 4:59 PM  

It didn't raise an eyebrow when LeBron went to the line virtually untouched on at least two or three occasions in OT of Game 5?

Either I'm insane, or we weren't watching the same game.

Let's also not forget how horribly that Pistons-Bulls was officiated, specifically in regard to 'Sheed. And yet they still almost swept the Bulls (a team arguably better than the Cavs). Let's see how many times Kirk Hinrich can flop in one quarter, yay! Oh yea... and I'm a Bulls fan!

Patrick 5:00 PM  

Come on Nate, there is no way MJ would have been able to shove a 200 lbs player to the ground with a couple fingers...it is clear that Russell slipped on the floor and got juked out of his shoes

omnivore43 11:46 PM  

"Thank you so much for this. I have been feeling this exact same way since 2004, but have never read anything about it. You have jumped into my brain on this one."

That's right folks; no one talks about how NBA officials have too much of an effect on the game. I've never even considered it before.

Other than that revelation, this is the most hackneyed NBA piece ever. Yes, NBA officials have a disproprtionate effect on the outcome of games. How does this, or the outcome of the 2006 Finals, still surprise anyone? This column is 14 months old. Why not write about something actually going on.... now? ish?

Nathan 10:00 AM  

Actually Omnivore43, that's the exact type of position that allows the problem to continue. Are we, and more importantly is David Stern, supposed to just accept that corrupt officiating is part of the game? Or should we use the turmoil of the past offseason to say "Damn it, we've had enough," and try to do something about it.

Vinnie 10:47 AM  

I'm not pretending it's timely. I'm not pretending it's groundbreaking. I'm not pretending it's not hackneyed. But it's as Nate said, without the constant reminder, the officiating will only devolve further and impede the adaptations of the game that should be happening right now.

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