I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t claim to watch a lot of basketball anymore outside of the NCAA Tournament, Georgia basketball when it’s decent, and the occasional Atlanta Hawks game. This isn’t due to lack of interest. For the better part of my life my interest in sports went something like this:
This all shifted during my later years of high school and most definitely during my time in college. I used to watch basketball at every chance I got and loved it immensely. I still think it might be the greatest all-around game in that to be a successful basketball player you have to be able to play offense and defense while transitioning seamlessly from one to the other. I would say I even followed basketball through college because I really loved watching those Phoenix Suns teams when they first acquired Steve Nash and they were playing the Mike D’antoni style of fast tempo basketball where they would practice with a 12 second shot clock.
My problem with basketball frankly began with Vlade Divac and his patented “I just got tapped by a defender so now I must flail my arms to make it look like a hard foul so I can get to the free thow line” move. The refs let this go on and never penalized him for it. I basically lost all respect for the NBA in 2006 when the refs basically stole the NBA Championship from the Dallas Mavericks (who were clearly the best team in the league that season) and handed it to the Miami Heat because Dwayne Wade was a more marketable star.
For those that don’t remember, the Heat were down 2-1 in the series when in Game 4 D. Wade decided that his strategy was going to drive recklessly to the basket and as long as he drew contact they’d put him on the line. It worked to perfection. I remember telling a friend of mine when watching the clinching Game 6 for the Heat that “I farted on the couch during Game 5 and I’m pretty sure I was called for a foul on Dwayne Wade”.
Now the point of my article is not to criticize Dwayne Wade in any way. Both Kobe and Lebron get this same treatment. If you watch any Lakers, Heat, or Cavs games this year that are close in the end you will see all three follow the reckless driving strategy because they know they are going to get the call every time even if they are the reason for the contact. Bill Simmons touched on this in his recent mailbag and he also wrote an article right after the Finals in 2006 about the subject since D. Wade was the most egregious example of this at the time. Read this most poignant line from Simmons and let that sink in:
“Forget about who’s winning the championship. I’m starting to feel like the future of the NBA is at stake.” I warned everyone that a Miami victory meant we could “look forward to another decade of perimeter scorers going 11-for-32 in big games, teammates standing around while stars dribble at the top of the key waiting to challenge two defenders at once, and refs deciding every big game (like in Game 5) by how they interpret contact when the same guy is recklessly driving to the basket over and over again.” I also wrote, “seeing an individual triumph over a team YET AGAIN would erase every positive outcome from the 2005-06 season. Basically, the team with LeBron or Wade will win the next 10-12 titles, and it will come down to which guy made more 20-footers with two guys on him and which guy got the most cheap calls from the most spineless referees. That’s not basketball, it’s a star system.”
My entire rant on this was led by a flop I saw a guy take in the Michigan State/UConn game tonight and just disgusted me. Now I’ve never considered myself a diehard basketball fan, but I would say that I certainly cared in the past about certain teams and would watch their games. Now I’m nothing more than a casual fan and this is the main reason. The NBA and college basketball to an extent have decided it is more important to promote their stars by selective officiating rather than maintaining the integrity of the game. And I’m not ingorant to the fact that this happens in other sports. Star quarterbacks in football get protected from even the slightest semblance of contact and star pitchers in baseball get that corner call more than the rookie or the guy that doesn’t win 20 games a year. While this may be true in other sports, these individual acts don’t change the pace of an entire game as much as when one guy takes it on his shoulders to continously drive to the basket with reckless abandon and the referees literally award games to these guys.
I don’t think I’ll change the opinion of the diehard fan, but I certainly have to agree with Mr. Simmons that if this type of officiating remains, the future of the NBA is at stake. The situation basically rewards guys for drawing contact, no matter who initiated it. It might be one man’s opinion but I just think that type of play bastardizes the game.