Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Thoughts on the NBA

Today, Mark Cuban, the colorful owner of the Dallas Mavericks that several strangers have told me I resemble (I take this as a compliment; I happen to love Cubes) was fined $250,000 for telling officials who worked the Mavericks' game 5 loss to the Miami Heat what all of us already know; the officiating in the NBA sucks harder than an industrial strength vacuum cleaner!

In a posting on his blog this morning, Cuban took the Miami Herald to task for quoting him as having said that "the game is rigged". Cuban never said this, as he believes that even the thought of a conspiracy of that magnitude is an insult to the players in the NBA.

So I'LL say it. The NBA is second only to the WWE when it comes to artifice of competition. With their doctored draft "lottery", their star players never committing violations and the most basic rules of the game not being enforced, the NBA is quickly becoming a league that only Don King would be proud to operate.

A few years ago, LeBron James, an Ohio native, ended up being won in the NBA's draft lottery by the Cleveland Cavaliers. Cleveland, for those of you in the Red States, is located in Ohio. The whispers about the NBA's draft lottery being rigged were so prevalent last year that many NBA journalists predicted that the New York Knicks, currently the absolute worst team in basketball, would win the draft lottery to win back their fan base by use of a top college player. With many eyes on the draft, and the percentages of winning the lottery in their favor, the Knicks lost the draft lottery. This is in stark contrast to the 1985 draft lottery that mysteriously landed Patrick Ewing of Georgetown in the nation's biggest media market. I suspect that the weighted lottery that the National Hockey League operates under would remove the annual blanket of suspicion that cloaks the NBA's lottery. Thus far, NBA commissioner David Stern has not indicated that he would enjoy that route.

The NBA has a peculiar predilection towards protecting their star players. Unlike the NHL, which allows the players more often that not to settle things themselves on the ice, the NBA protects their marquee names by use of officials who call fouls on people who accidentally bump into/breathe in the direction of/look strangely upon the all-stars of the NBA. Pat Riley, the current coach of the Miami Heat, the team who is the latest recipient of official largesse, once referred to Michael Jordan as "His Majesty" in a press conference given after a game in which Michael Jordan wasn't whistled once for committing a foul. As we saw in Game 5, Jordan's mantle of Not-To-Be-Fouled has apparently been bequeathed to Dwayne Wade of the Heat, who had 25 free throws the other night, which is the exact number of free throws taken by the entire Dallas Mavericks team. Many voices suggest that the NBA wants to extend the finals to seven games to increase media attention and maximize revenues. What league wouldn't? And yet given that most NBA arenas are not filled to capacity on most nights, this theory can't possibly be far off the mark. If a few more million dollars can be made through creative use of the whistle in the NBA Finals, that certainly makes up for all of those empty seats at Atlanta Hawks and Philadelphia 76ers games.

When you play basketball, you are allowed to take two steps with the ball after completing your dribble before you have to shoot or pass the ball. This is the first thing I was taught as a 4-year-old child when a basketball was first placed into my age-abbreviated hands. Good luck finding this rule being applied to any player in the National Basketball Association. The basketball is in hands more than it's on the floor in any random NBA game. Now, I understand that the dunk has revolutionized the game, and that nothing gets a crowd up like the ol' Slam. Having said that, taking three steps in the lane in order to accomplish a two-second dunk highlight for that evening's SportsCenter is still illegal, according to the rules of the game. If the NBA isn't enforcing the most basic Naismith blueprint rule of the game of basketball, what sport am I watching?

It's truly a shame that the NBA has taken the sport of basketball down the theatre route. With some of the best players in the game now coming from Europe, China and Canada, basketball is on the verge of being a truly international sport in ways that American football and ice hockey can only dream about. When the most visible league on the planet representing the sport demonstrably alters the game for the worse, I've lost my reason to follow the sport. Instead of becoming a worldwide ambassador for a truly American game, the NBA follows an improvisational script that is quickly becoming the envy of Vince McMahon.

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