Fast break: Dissecting Donaghy

December 9, 2009, 8:04 PM

As promised, my take on disgraced NBA official Tim Donaghy and his interview on 60 Minutes (and subsequent crooning on ESPN Radio).

First off, the NBA has already opened itself up to criticism as they placed a high value on the entertainment component of the game by marketing its stars. It’s not like back in the day when it was always billed as team against team and individual player rivalries emerged within the team game; that in itself made it worthy of watching. Now people come to see the star(s) on the team(s) and this has a trickle down effect in many areas.

I have always believed that when in doubt officials make calls for the good of the league. The rationale is and that fans do not pay to watch Kobe Bryant foul out.

For example: LeBron James comes barreling down the lane and Boton’s Eddie House is holding his ground and waiting for contact. It’s not a bang-bang play and House is seemingly there in plenty of time to take the charge, but the call goes against the defender and LeBron is awarded free throws. If it’s a star like Kevin Garnett or Paul Pierce, instead of House, well then it depends on where the game is being played. Remember: James fouls out of a game about once every two seasons.

It sets up a situation where there are different cycles for different teams and it’s tough to move from one to the other. Let’s call the first one the good cycle. A good team seems to always get the benefit of a call and will therefore win close games. By carrying the mantle of being a good team they get respect, good calls and continue to win games while remaining on the good cycle.

The bad cycle sees a team lose games, respect and the benefit of a call. Dubbed a bad team, it remains on the bad cycle and struggles with the perceived jump to the good. Why else do we hear about “star calls” and respect that certain teams and players always seem to receive?

Donaghy is a convicted felon so what he says might be sketchy in some people’s opinion, but he did admit to what many already thought about officials: that they officiate games depending on personalities and let personal feelings for a player enter into decision making.

There was an example in the Donaghy 60 Minutes interview when he cited Allen Iverson being taught a lesson after threatening an official. Apparently the rank and file of officials in the NBA thought he deserved a harsher punishment than he received from the league office. When it didn’t follow, officials sought to settle the score themselves on the court with calls that put the clamps on Iverson’s game. That is just the tip of the iceberg.

I wonder how many other “personal” factors enter into making a call? How do you think a guy like Rasheed Wallace feels hearing that from Donaghy? The impact is also seen in the perception of Wallace by fans. Wallace is no choir boy, but I have witnessed other spontaneous outbursts that have been allowed to play out without repercussions.

It was also astonishing to hear Donaghy, who officiated games on which he had bet, say that he never made calls to influence the games where his money was at stake. He goes one better by saying that he knows other officials who allow their personalities to influence the game, but his didn’t. Are you serious? And you have money on the game with ties to organized crime?

Hello pot? Meet kettle.

In the mid-1980s it was legendary Bob Knight at Indiana who first put the thought in my head about officials betting on games and influencing the outcome they way they made certain calls. Not too far fetched when you think about the latest revelations.

I have always maintained that basketball is the toughest game in the world to officiate, but now thanks to Tim Donaghy the officiating conspiracy theorists are coming out of the woodwork. What you choose to believe from a personal standpoint is up to you, but I have always said that people will, again thanks to Donaghy, raise an eyebrow when there is a questionable call and point to the one guy that, truthfully or not, validated thoughts that not every official may be on the up-and-up.

Ugly wins still count

The Toronto Raptors extended the win streak to three games with an ugly win over the Minnesota Timberwolves, but it was a good win in a sense — there are times when you have to win devoid of style. There are nights when you have to win low scoring affairs when your offence is not sharp but your defense holds you in until you can get a key score. Toronto shot a paltry 32.1 per cent, but the combination of its defence, holding the Timberwolves to 37.1 per cent and aggressiveness, shooting 40 of 48 from the free throw line, allowed them to win the game. Wonder if the T-Wolves will send a tape to the league office?

We kill him when he’s not playing defence so let’s be balanced and give Andrea Bargnani credit for what he did late in the fourth quarter against Minnesota. On at least two occasions he switched out on to T-Wolves point guard Jonny Flynn, in screen and roll situations. On both occasions, Bargnani got into a stance, a good stance, with a wide low base, back was straight, knees bent and used space to thwart a drive and then his length to contest shot attempts. To be honest, he did the same thing against Steve Nash, but the difference is Nash has shots in his bag of tricks that Flynn does not. The two-time MVP had to use them but Flynn, well let’s just say right now his bag of tricks is a see through zip lock job! Not bad Andrea, and now that the fans know it can be done, the pressure is on to do it consistently.

During the course of the game there was much angst from fans, and I think from players that the team’s streak of 882 straight games with a three point basket was going to end. It didn’t; as the team managed to hit two treys late in the fourth quarter.

Here are a few facts about the streak: It started in 1999, 10 arenas where Toronto made triples no longer exist (if you really want to know, e-mail and I’ll list them for you), Celine Dion won Record of the Year at the 41st Grammy Awards (My Heart Will Go On), and YouTube and the iPod were not even around.

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