Rigged from the Top

by July 20, 2007

by Ben Collins

After two years that encapsulated everything that has become embarrassing about the NBA – the authoritarianism, the power hungriness, the sudden iron fist; the Amare and Diaw suspensions that effectively declared a 2007 NBA champion and the 2006 NBA Finals where one player shot 97 free throws in six games to help the Miami Heat become a championship team that would play below .500 basketball for the majority of the next year with the exact same roster, only to be told to squelch the notion that something underhanded was going on because it is silly and impossible and preposterous — this morning we learn this:

It turns out we were right all along.

This morning, the New York Post released a report that an NBA gambling ring is about to be busted up by the FBI. They’re accused of rigging point spreads, which doesn’t necessarily rule out that the win-loss column was affected. The ring includes mobsters and associates and, lo, an NBA referee. We don’t know which one.

Now, we’re left to the bane of our existence: guessing.

Could it be Bob Delaney? I mean, they made Donnie Brasco about the fact that he had to pretend to be in the mob all of those years? True story, they said, and it was. Could he have flipped again? Is that what flip-flopping has meant all this time? Could the allure of the mob reeled him back in? No, too romanticized, too “backwards fairy tale,” too Scorsese to be true. Plus, this being the Italian mob, of all mobs, is too much of a stereotype.

Could it be Dick Bavetta? Can’t be. The only gambling he does is Bingo night at the Unitarian Church down the street. Everybody knows that.

Could it be Joey Crawford? No. Too obvious.

But, the idea that this now infamous cheater can’t be Joey Crawford because it’s “too obvious” — he’s a notoriously partial referee and his actions, like ejecting one of the league’s players because he was laughing on the bench, already merited a suspension and would be too suspicious – brings on this point.

If there are so many patently obvious indiscretions and if this league’s officiating is saddled with so much bias and incompetence that it’s hard for any fan to at least even narrow down a list of people who may or may not have cheated, isn’t time to do something about it?

Isn’t it time to stop passing off partiality as fallibility because no other sport seems to have a similar issue? Isn’t it time to admit a mistake that you know is happening? Isn’t at time to talk about it? Isn’t it time to at least let other people talk about it?

Because, when we look back on this morning, that might be the most disturbing fact revealed today. The NBA had its objective moderator who was right all along, but they were too busy fining him and the media was too busy labeling him as “crazy” or an “eccentric” to actually take the time to listen to him.

“You know I can’t comment on this,” says Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, who has accrued well over $1 million in fines for criticizing officiating in his six-year tenure. “But I like the direction you’re going with this.”

That direction? That today’s revelation is a much bigger league-wide problem of the stubbornness to admit mistakes beyond the singular crime.

Because the most disgusting part of the article may be well below the lead. David Stern, the Post’s Murray Weiss writes, is aware of the investigation and knows the referee under investigation.

Think about that: a commissioner of one of the four major sports in the United States was conscious of information that affected the outcomes of games and has yet to do anything about it?

Put this into perspective: Pete Rose, one of the best players in the history of baseball, was banned from Major League Baseball by Bart Giammatti for suspicion that he bet on baseball games in which he didn’t even play.

The commissioner of a sport who does not immediately suspend a referee after hearing the mere allegation of fixing games due to a mob tie-in is not playing it safe. He’s showing his allegiance to Stu Jackson, Ronnie Nunn in a fight against his owners, his fans and the integrity of the game.

So those who hear of these accusations today and think that they knew it! They knew it was rigged in someway but they’re just shocked it had nothing to do with David Stern.

Well, think again. Those who continually side with those in the wrong – those who continue to let these transgressions continue unrestrained — are just as guilty as those who commit it.

It is not preposterous. It is not silly. It is not, as we learned today, impossible.