Links: NBA Finals Diary, Day 9

by Lang Whitaker

Saturday! Which means we’re still a day away from Game Five. I know there’s only a two-day break between games, but out here, sitting around awaiting for the game to go down, it feels like weeks between games. I wish we could just do the Finals over seven consecutive days, bang bang bang, but that not only wouldn’t allow the players time to rest up and recuperate, it also would prevent your favorite media members from having the time to opine and form opinions about the series, and that’s what we’re all here for, right? Hype! Blather! Noise!

Yesterday the Celts cancelled practice and the Lakers didn’t do media availability, and today’s sessions were to be similarly truncated. Last night, with no plans and no standing affiliations, Khalid and I ended up heading back to the Staples Center with a couple of folk to see L.A.’s other team, the L.A. Sparks, play ball. I’d been to one WNBA game in my life, and once the Finals end I’m going to continue our ongoing series with Candice Wiggins, so I decided to get my mind right. First we stopped at Roscoe’s Chicken and Waffle for dinner, and I got a fix for my southern food jones. Then we hit the Stapler for the Sparks vs. Connecticut Sun.

In the past, I’ve been as critical as anyone else about women’s basketball: too many turnovers, sloppy play, etc. But I was really impressed last night; the W has come a long way, baby. Way fewer turnovers, excellent shooting, crisp offensive sets. I immediately took a shine toward Connecticut’s Tamika Whitmore, who seems to be the Rasheed Wallace of the W, and found myself rooting for Whitmore to have a big game. She did, though Candace Parker and Lisa Leslie proved to be too much to handle, even though it took them overtime to set the Suns. Fun game, and even Khalid was standing and yelling. (Also, two celebrities there in the front row: Jack Black and Shelden Williams. I’m guessing Shelden Williams must be the Nicholson of the Sparks.)

Today we hit the mall, because I recently discovered that I’m running out of clothes. I’ve been on the road for like two weeks now, and I can’t do laundry today because I might not get it back in time to leave on Monday. So we found a Macy’s and a bookstore and a Radio Shack and did that what’s always fun to do when you’re bored: spend cash.

One thing I haven’t really written about is this whole Tim Donaghy business. What is the deal? From what I can tell, Donaghy was pissed that the NBA filed a million dollar lawsuit against him, so he let slip what he’d told the FBI: That there were four NBA games that were fixed. One was the 2002 Game Six between the Lakers and King, one was a Rockets playoff game (the one that set off Van Gundy about officiating), and the other two are unclear. Donaghy mentioned this stuff at the worst possible time as far as the NBA was concerned: During the glorious Lakers/Celtics series.

I’ve had people ask me for years if the NBA was fixed. And you know what? It isn’t. I hate to tell you that, but it’s true. I heard David Stern on a local talk radio station out here in L.A. the other day, and after his call a bunch of callers called in to say that they knew the NBA was fixed. Right. To his credit, the host of the show asked if the NBA was fixed, why did the Spurs keep winning, and why were the Cavs and Spurs in the Finals last season? One woman said it was because every team gets a piece of the pie. (As a fan of the Atlanta Hawks, I can unilaterally promise you that this is a falsehood.)

As part of what I do, I get to see behind the curtain of the NBA, and I know too many people who work too hard for their efforts to be orchestrated by some grand puppet master. Players really do shoot thousands of jumpers each day. Coaches really do spend hours breaking down game film.

And if there is some grand conspiracy to dictate the outcome of NBA games, it must be the best kept secret in the history of sports. Considering how the NBA can’t even keep it secret when a player is getting traded, you’d assume something like Donaghy is alleging would have leaked by now. But nothing by anyone until this week, and it just happens to be from a dude facing jail time and a $1 million fine. Hmm.

Now, do referees sometimes manipulate calls? Definitely. How many times do we see calls go against the NBA’s lesser lights instead of superstars? How often are shooting fouls called only after a player misses the shot? That kind of stuff happens all the time, and I detest it, but I don’t think it’s dictated by David Stern or Adam Silver. In a way, it’s human nature. If you’re a ref and you can give Tim Duncan his fifth foul or Jacque Vaughn his second, who would you call it on? Do you need a memo from you boss to know how to make that decision?

All this doesn’t mean there can’t be another NBA ref who is on the take—or an NFL ref or an MLB umpire, for that matter. But I do know that the NBA isn’t rigged. Sorry to burst your bubble.

Khalid is working on a post for the site right now as well, so we’re coming hard with the Saturday coverage. And then, of course, I’ll be with you tomorrow night for the Game Five liveblog from the Stapler. I really don’t know what to expect. When Boston plays their hardest, they’re a tough nut to crack. But with all these injuries, I just don’t know if they’ll have the depth to keep the pressure on L.A. for 48 minutes.

Either way, I’m looking forward to it. Let’s get it started in here, let’s get it started in here, let’s get it…