David Stern, NBA Commissioner and verbal jouster extraordinaire, just amused himself by beating up on another radio host (not that I have sympathy for sports radio hosts, mind you):
“Have you stopped beating your wife yet?” NBA Commissioner David Stern asked sports talk radio personality Jim Rome during a contentious interview on Rome’s nationally syndicated radio program on Wednesday afternoon. <source>
The comment was in response to a fair question regarding the widely held belief that the 2012 lottery for draft picks was rigged in favor of the winning team.
Rome asked Stern about the belief held by some — including, as Yahoo! Sports NBA columnist Adrian Wojnarowski reported immediately following the lottery, multiple NBA executives — that the league office put its thumb on the scales and rigged the lottery drawing in favor of a team still under its stewardship and that it just sold, as a favor to its new owner.
David Stern has been very effective in deflecting attention away from the fact that his league appears to be a monumental fraud on many levels in my opinion, and what I find annoying is that the story today about the latest episode of Lottery-gate (remember the alleged “chilled” envelope that awarded Patrick Ewing to the Knicks?) neglects to mention the central fraud in the Stern-era NBA: referee Tim Donaghy, who was convicted of the crime of taking cash payoffs from professional gamblers in exchange for making calls that would favor one team over another, and also of betting on the games himself (where he could heavily influence the outcome).
On July 20, 2007, columnist Murray Weiss of the New York Post reported an investigation by the FBI into allegations of an NBA referee betting on games to control the point spread. It was revealed that Donaghy, who has a gambling problem, placed tens of thousands of dollars in bets on games during the 2005–06 and 2006–07 season and had been approached by low-level mob associates to work on a gambling scheme. Mike Missanelli of The Stephen A. Smith Show suggested that Donaghy had gotten himself into debt and tried to make it up by betting on games. <source>
How real was this? Very, apparently.
Donaghy resigned from the league on July 9, 2007 before reports of an investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) for allegations that he bet on games that he officiated during his last two seasons and that he made calls affecting the point spread in those games. On August 15, 2007, Donaghy pleaded guilty to two federal charges related to the investigation. <source>
If you have ever watched NBA games you know that foul calls control the flow of the game, and often-times the outcome of the game (who wins). Fouls result in free throws, and on some nights Team A is awarded dozens more free throws than Team B, a lopsided outcome that is often hard to explain. NBA officials are a bigger part of NBA game than are other officials in their respective sports.
Which is why the Donaghy scandal is so devastating: the man was fixing games for years. And lopsided officiating is still prevalent in today’s NBA.
But after his conviction, Donaghy was not done revealing, in a letter filed in the U.S. District Court in New York, just how many shenanigans he observed and was a part of during his NBA career:
• “Tim gave information on how top executives of the NBA sought to manipulate games using referees to boost ticket sales and television ratings,” the letter reads. “He also described how nepotism played a far greater role than qualifications in a number of referee hirings.”
• “Tim explained the league officials would tell referees that they should withhold calling technical fouls on certain star players because doing so would hurt ticket sales and television ratings,” the letter adds. “As an example, Tim explained how there were times when a referee supervisor would tell referees that NBA Executive X did not want them to call technical fouls on star players or remove them from the game. In January 2000, Referee D went against these instructions and elected a star player in the first quarter of the game. Referee D later was privately reprimanded by the league for that ejection.”
• In addition to game-altering allegations, Donaghy’s letter claims that many officials carry on “relationships” with team executives, coaches and players that violate their NBA contracts. For example, it said, referees broke NBA rules by hitting up players for autographs, socializing with coaches, and accepting meals and merchandise from teams.
“Tim described one referee’s use of a team’s practice facility to exercise and another’s frequent tennis matches with a team’s coach,” the letter says.
• The letter also alleges that during a 2005 playoff series, “Team 3 lost the first two games in the series and Team 3’s Owner complained to NBA officials. Team 3’s Owner alleged that referees were letting a Team 4 player get away with illegal screens. NBA Executive Y told Referee Supervisor Z that the referees for that game were to enforce the screening rules strictly against that Team 4 player. Referee Supervisor Z informed the referees about his instructions. As an alternate referee for that game, Tim also received these instructions.” <source>
I don’t believe that these allegations were proven, but I find Donaghy’s reporting on what he saw (and was a part of) far more credible than any of David Stern’s rebuttals.
The bottom line is that it is impossible for me to watch the NBA and take it seriously as a professional sport in which teams are allowed to compete fairly and in which we can trust the winner’s superiority.
The fact that Stern has kept the NBA rich and popular in the sports industry is a credit to his brilliance: he’s as good a front-man for a league as any that have ever attempted the job. However, he has had huge help from something that is other than himself: the human desperation to avoid painful realities and indulge fantasies and illusions: we fall in love with a sport, and we refuse to fall out of love with it, no matter how many lies come to light.
NBA fans want their NBA, just as NFL fans want their NFL — another league built on scams such as a Spygate, in which the New England Patriots “won” three Superbowls with illegally procured video footage of opponents’ play calls and strategies.
Every year we hear debates about Tom Brady versus Joe Montana, as if Tom Brady has ever won a Superbowl (he has not: all three rings were procured in a fraudulent manner).
The human desire to indulge illusions is powerful, but the Patriots video tapes might have been even more powerful — actual cheating video reality might have broken through the illusion and made a big dent in the NFL’s credibility…which is why I believe Roger Goodell destroyed the tapes (yes, he did).
But human beings gotta have it, and commissioners of sports leagues have been able to make great use of this human foible.
If only such men could transcend this mud pit and put a legitimate product on the field; now that would be Christmas early.