The one place the nobility of man is truly expressed is in our athletic contests. We reward dedication, effort and skill, fair play is paramount and the team and the individual are responsible for each other. It is battle without death. The outcomes are impartial. No one is entitled to victory. When athletes cheat, it undermines the entire purpose of athletics, because the point of athletics is to honorably match your skills against another, and may the best athlete win. When athletic organizations cheat, they rob the spectator of the fundamental right to a fair and rightful outcome.
I soured on the National Basketball Association in the early 1990s primarily due to obvious biases and intentional incompetence among the referees. The vast majority of fouls during a game are simply not called, and many of the fouls called against defenders are from contact intentionally drawn by the offensive player. NBA referees play favorites and definitely have their hated targets. They pick winners and losers, and often try to put the ball in the hands of their favored team with a “bad” call when the game is on the line. Despite it being a gross and obvious problem, the league swiftly punishes players, coaches and owners if they dare speak out against the rampant, intentional incompetence among referees. The Elephant of Cheating is in the NBA’s living room and the league bullies everyone involved to quash the story. So I turned my back on the NBA. I get a better product from my local high school.
My hometown team is the Portland Trailblazers, who, for the first time in many years had some success this past season. I turned away from the Blazers in 1994 out of disgust for the way the Blazers owner, Paul Allen, treated his players and employees. I was not alone. As Allen’s behavior and decisions ushered in the era of the “Portland Jail Blazers,” many fans jumped ship in disgust. While I keep and eye on the Blazers’ progress year to year, I will not get back on the fan wagon until we have a new owner.
However, I did keep a lazy eye on the playoffs this year, and yes, I was thoroughly disgusted again by the referees. The big surprise to me, after so many years of paying little attention to the league, was the questionable behavior of the teams themselves. I cannot conceive of any scenario where the woeful Dallas Mavericks can take the San Antonio Spurs to a game seven of any playoff series unless the Spurs intentionally threw games in order to extend the extremely profitable in-state Texas vs. Texas match-up. The Spurs, a phenomenally powerful and talent laden team and the Western Conference’s number one seed, toyed with the hapless Mavs for six games before delivering the knockout punch in game seven at home. The Spurs then turned their attention to their second round opponent, the Portland Trailblazers. For three games, the San Antonio ran over Portland, kicking the crap out of them. Then for some odd reason, the Spurs coach Greg(ggg) Popovich grossly limited the play of his starters in game four instead of going for the sweep. The Blazers squeaked out a narrow home win while Tim Duncan and crew watched from the bench. Could it be that Pop threw the game so he could sell out his own arena and win the series at home before a hometown crowd? Pretty fishy to my nose.
And then consider the Eastern Division top seed, the Indiana Pacers. The absolutely terrible Atlanta Hawks, the only NBA team making the playoffs with a losing record, also managed a miraculous Dallas-like performance, taking the Pacers to a game seven before Indiana put their foot down at home. I guess 2014 is the year of the seven game series in the NBA.
As a matter of fact, it is. The 2014 NBA playoffs tied the record for playoff series taken to seven games in just the first round, all without a single seeding upset in any of those seven game series. How is that for a bizarre coincidence. The NBA playoffs can have as few as 60 total games and as many as 105 total games. Every game is worth millions of dollars in ticket revenue, food and merchandise sales, and advertising revenue. The closer the league comes to 105 playoff games, the more money it makes. It has a vested interest in extended series. If the NBA can figure a way to extend every series just a single game it creates an annual financial shift of tens of millions of dollars without actually cheating the eventual series winner. So the average NBA fan has to ask, why exactly did it look like Greg(ggg) Popovich was not playing to win in game four at Portland?