NBA Referee Image Problems Resurface

While it’s certainly nice to see the esteemed Howard Bryant of ESPN agreeing with what I wrote about in my post “Why we should all be rooting for the Boston Celtics to win the NBA Championship,” I wanted to address something else after last night’s debacle in Orlando. Many people have dismissed the claims of disgraced NBA referee Tim Donaghy that NBA referees are part of a conspiracy to fix NBA playoff games. I put myself largely in that category, as Donaghy has an obvious reason to lie and a history of dishonesty. Yet, when I see things like what happened last night in Orlando, Donaghy’s claims nag at me.

Let me add that I generally hate the blame the referee mentality that we often see in modern sports. Referees are human and fallible, and most of the time, I’m willing to chalk a bad call up to that. Where I start to wonder if Donaghy’s claims don’t hold some legitimacy is when it becomes quite clear that the refs are blatantly favoring one side or another, “missing” obvious calls, or calling one thing a foul when committed by one team and ignoring the same exact thing when the other team does it. I saw all three of these things last night in spades, and it leads me to believe that the refs were trying to make sure that the series between the Orlando Magic and Boston Celtics goes to six games. David Stern, let me be the next (I’m hardly the first) to tell you that your league now has a very serious image problem when it comes to officiating.

Before I get into the disturbing events of last evening, let’s take a brief trip down memory lane to the pivotal game 6 in the 2002 Western Conference Finals between Stern’s precious darlings the Los Angeles Lakers and the Sacramento Kings. I remember watching the game at the time in complete disbelief at how much the referees did everything in their power to help the Lakers win the game and avoid being bounced from the playoffs by the smaller market Kings. I sat in stunned silence after the game ended, unable to believe what I had seen. The Lakers shot 27 free throws in the fourth quarter alone, and I remember Kobe Bryant blatantly getting away with one of the most vicious and egregious hatchet jobs in the history of sports as he shoved and elbowed Mike Bibby, committing a clear foul directly in front of a ref who pretended he saw nothing. Worse, the refs then had the audacity to call Bibby for a foul on Bryant. The officiating of that game was so atrocious, that consumer advocate Ralph Nader called for an investigation. This game was at the heart of Donaghy’s argument about the NBA fixing games, and give the man credit where it is due, he picked the right game to point to. To this day, I feel that the Sacramento Kings were jobbed out of a chance to go to the Finals and I don’t consider the Lakers 2002 Championship legitimate. I don’t know how anyone but a Lakers fan could.

With that history noted, it brings me to last night’s game between the Celtics and the Magic. I had a very bad feeling when early on the referees ignored the text book example of an offensive foul when Dwight Howard led with his elbow as he bowled over a planted Paul Pierce. Elbows and Dwight Howard have become a theme, but the NBA doesn’t seem to want to acknowledge it. The night only got worse for the Celtics from there. Any time Kendrick Perkins or Rasheed Wallace so much as brushed Dwight Howard gently, they were called for fouls, while Howard’s flailing elbows never seemed a problem, not even when he knocked Glen “Big Baby” Davis into a concussed state. Then of course there was the matter of the two ridiculous Technical Foul calls on Kendrick Perkins by referee Ed F. Rush that got the Celtics center ejected. The league has since rescinded one of them, although even the ESPN announcers agreed that both were illegitimate.

The saddest part of all of this is that the Orlando Magic may well have won the game without all of the blatant favoritism from the referees. They shot the ball incredibly well from 3-point range and generally played a solid game. I’d prefer to be able to give the Magic the credit they deserve for persevering, but it is awful hard to do that when the officials are overshadowing the play on the court.

The NBA has an image problem with it’s officiating, and unless and until they take real steps to address it, that will continue. Sweeping it under the rug by fining anyone who dares say anything will never solve the problem. The bedrock of good officiating is being impartial, and  it’s pretty hard after a game like last night to really buy the idea that NBA referees are particularly impartial. I really wish I could.

Uh Oh, Now Daddy is Mad . . .

Well, since I’ve been following the North Korea situation pretty closely, it seems appropriate to mention the latest developments, which may actually be a good sign.

North Korea has always counted on China to provide it protection from those “Horrible, Mean Western Aggressors,” and China has been all too willing to use North Korea as something of a buffer against interference – particularly from the United States – in continental Asia. Perhaps U.S. influence in Japan and the events of the Korean War hardened China’s position, and that is understandable on some level. Whatever the case, China has often served as the biggest obstacle to holding Kim Jong Il and North Korea responsible for their activities.

If China is truly willing to stand with the rest of the world in condemning North Korea for the craven torpedo attack on the South Korean ship, then perhaps progress can finally be made. Lets hope that these leaks about China’s willingness to accept the independent investigation’s conclusion that North Korea was in fact responsible is a sign that North Korea’s proverbial father, always overbearing and overprotective, is finally ready to punish his little boy for relentlessly pushing the buttons of all the other kids. Anyone for a spanking?

North Korea Takes Its Ball and Runs Home

North Korea is at it again. The annoying child that keeps pushing buttons now wants to play the offended and aggrieved party. It would almost be laughable if not for how dangerously unstable the country’s so-called leaders seem to be.

War is never a welcome prospect, but North Korea has now walked over a line that may lead to a very unfortunate conclusion. Much like the angry, petulant child who keeps lashing out until he gets put in his place, North Korea has decided to end the game and take its ball home while screaming about how much everyone else sucks even as the other kids look on in disbelief. Of course, if I were in charge in South Korea, I would tell North Korea, “Hey, you want to cut off communications with us? Go right ahead because I’d rather not talk to you anyway.” I mean, really, is it much of a threat when your worst enemy tells you, “I’m never going to talk to you again!” South Korea’s response should be, “Do you promise?”

Kim Jong Il and his backers long ago left reason behind, and soon enough South Korea and probably the rest of the world are going to have to make a decision about what can be tolerated and what must be punished. Maybe the time has come for the petulant child to get the spanking it needs. Let’s just all hope that the price for indulging North Korea this long does not come back to haunt us all.

You are worthless Alec Baldwin . . .

Looks like North Korea is making friends again, this time sinking a South Korean warship with a torpedo fired from one of their submarines.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton is talking tough, saying, “We cannot allow this attack on South Korea to go unanswered by the international community. This will not be and cannot be business as usual. There must be an international, not just a regional, but an international response.”

Somewhere, Kim Jong Il is laughing even as his ministers threaten all-out war if anyone tries to hold North Korea responsible for what they did. So why would North Korea’s leader be laughing? The truth is that Kim Jong Il knows that the international community won’t do anything about it other than talk tough. How many times has North Korea provoked anger and gotten away without any real consequences? Why would they believe that this time is likely to be any different?

The thing is, Hillary is right, even though I don’t think we’ll see any action to back up those words. North Korea essentially committed an act of war and should be held responsible for what they did, but somehow I don’t see anything meaningful being done about it. All of that means of course that North Korea will continue to push buttons and provoke until there is no other option than full fledged war. If a child never learns the consequences of misbehavior, that child will continue to misbehave. North Korea is no different.

This Just In . . . Youtube is Sacrilegious!

The Associated Press is reporting that Pakistan is now blocking Youtube in addition to the recent crackdown on Facebook. So Youtube is sacrilegious . . . Tell us something we don’t know.

In the AP article on Yahoo, a Foreign Ministry spokesman named Abdul Basit is quoted as saying, “Such malicious and insulting attacks hurt the sentiments of Muslims around the world and cannot be accepted under the garb of freedom of expression.” Let’s all stop and read that quote again. Try not to laugh. Did the big bad Youtube hurt Abdul’s feelings?

I understand the desire to be sensitive to the feelings of others, and I’ve no interest in singling out and disparaging one religion (I’d rather get them all at once), but I wonder if some of these people understand how hysterical they sound to the rest of the world. People are going to say things that other people don’t like. It’s innately human and it won’t be changing in my lifetime. The fact there are people in the world who advocate killing others because they drew a mean cartoon seems absolutely ludicrous, and yet somehow, that is where we stand.

I’d like to say get over it, but then I might have a fatwa on my head. Maybe it’s just me, but a little old South Park lampooning seems less harmful than flaming off at the mouth about how a cartoonist should die because he or she disparaged Muhammad. Call me crazy, but I’m pretty sure that Facebook, Youtube, and South Park aren’t really causing Muhammad to lose any sleep, so I guess I don’t see the necessity of getting so angry on his behalf.

Why we should all be rooting for the Boston Celtics to win the NBA Championship.

Let’s start with the obvious disclaimer that I’m a Celtics fan and I can’t stand the Los Angeles Lakers or Kobe Bryant. With that out of the way, let me explain why I think that the vast majority of basketball fans should be rooting for the Boston Celtics to win the NBA Championship this post season. If you’re a fan of one of the other three teams still remaining, you’re excused. We can all appreciate loyalty. Otherwise, your rooting interest should go to the Celtics for one very simple reason: Team.

The NBA has long pushed individual superstars. Whether it be Wilt, Magic, Bird, Michael, Kobe, or LeBron, the NBA has marketed individual greatness. It has ridden the back of individual superstars and turned them into marketing icons. For myself and I suspect at least some others, that emphasis on the individual has become a turn off – a gross and crass exuberance for the celebration of the selfish. Kobe Bryant and the media’s “LeBron Sweepstakes” obsession are the pinnacle of this trend. As great as Magic, Larry, and Michael were individually, the best thing about them was the way they helped spur their teams on to the greatest heights. Michael Jordan made Bill Wennington and an aging Bill Cartwright look like integral parts of championship teams. Kobe Bryant needed the individual skills of Shaq or Pau Gasol to help him win a championship. I actually hear complaints from Laker fans when Kobe doesn’t take enough shots. Wow.

Frankly, I’m sick of hearing about the “Black Mamba” and LeBron, and to my eyes, the Boston Celtics look like the antidote to a basketball culture that’s become all about “me.” The Celtics are so fun to watch right now because more than any other team they are winning by their combined talents. They buried LeBron James and the Cavaliers not with individually great performances (although Rajon Rondo’s impressive triple-double was just that), but by working together. To watch the Celtics pass the ball when their offense is running on all cylinders is a thing of beauty.

Watching three aging stars, a great young point guard, a tough center who does the little things, and a bench of misfits come together to shock the media darling teams has been a great pleasure, but more than anything, it represents a triumph of the team over the individual. Growing up, I was taught that team sports were about coming together to form a whole greater than the sum of the individual parts. That’s the Boston Celtics, and I for one hope they dispatch the Orlando Magic and go on to win the championship by proving that “we” is better than “me.”

You can keep Kobe, L.A. I’d rather have a team anyway.

And lo, God said unto them let there be cash . . .

I suppose there probably aren’t too many people paying much attention to the death of John Shepherd-Barron. I’d guess that few people other than perhaps reigning Trivial Pursuit champions would have any idea who John Shepherd-Barron is. The humor in this of course is that almost all of us use ATMs (Automated Teller Machines) as a matter of course in our daily lives. Interesting that we know so little about a man credited with an invention that has been so integral to our lives, and yet we are kept up to date on the minute details of the lives of Paris Hilton and Lindsay Lohan.

Think about that the next time you step up to a cash machine, and try to remember to offer Mr. Shepherd-Barron a tip of the cap. As for Lindsay and Paris, well . . . Do yourself a favor and forget about them.