Is there a whole lot of difference between Tim Donaghy's crime and the actions of the New York Knicks over the past two seasons? Having lost my love and enjoyment of the game of basketball over the years, these more recent unseemly events will make it almost impossible for the game to win me back. While the disgraced former referee, Donaghy, was being convicted of betting on and fixing NBA games, the Knickerbockers' management braintrust spent two years shuffling personnel in and out, with seemingly no regard for team cohesion or playoff aspirations, while clearing salary cap space for the 2010 free agent market.
As Commissioner David Stern denounced Mr. Donaghy and offered law enforcement the league's cooperation to uphold "the integrity of the game" he should have answered to Knick fans who purchased top dollar seats at Madison Square Garden, and the rival ticket buyers nationwide, why a premier market team repeatedly puts a non-contending product on the court and how that affects the integrity of the game. As the Knicks played musical chairs with their player personnel and salary cap, the fans were led to believe that the multitude of trades and maneuvers were a legitimate effort to improve the team. However, between the players acquired and the players sent packing, not to mention Mike D'Antoni's "doghouse" coaching style, the whole effort to improve the team is a difficult pill to swallow. Though only the principles are privy to the negotiations that went on, reports of the Knicks' big pitch to the premier free agent with the biblical sobriquet was the opportunity for the already rich Lebron James to become a New York billionaire if he signed to play at America's basketball mecca. And if this negotiation centered more on fame and fortune rather than playoffs and potential championships, then the machinations of the last two seasons look ever more suspicious.
As reprehensible and damaging as Mr. Donaghy's illegal actions were to the game of pro-basketball, most sports reporters, writers and announcers were decidedly unprofessional in their attacks on him when he gave up that infamous 2002 Game 6 of the Western Conference playoff final between the Sacramento Kings and the Los Angeles Lakers as one where the fix was in. While attacking Donaghy as a criminal trying to save his own skin, not one of them bothered to ask why Donaghy chose that one playoff game from all the other games over the years. I defy any reasonable basketball fan, reporter, writer, or sports announcer to replay the 2nd half of that particular Game 6 and come to the conclusion that it was just a case of bad refereeing. Coincidentally, it was that game that sent my love and enjoyment of the game on a downward spiral.
Having to watch almost every player rotate the ball 180 degrees or more between each bounce, or a 'palm up' 270 degree rotation of the ball bounced from one hand to the other described as a crossover dribble - all without 'palming' or 'carrying' being called - is bad enough. But watching Shaquille O'Neal turn the 2nd half of that Game 6 into a rugby match was excrutiatingly painful. Shaq's "backing in" - an offensive foul that is seldom ever called - was sending Kings Center, Vlade Divac, airborne when it wasn't sending him to the floor looking as though he had been hit with a left hook. And when Chris Webber volunteered to guard O'Neal, upset at Divac's inability to stop the massive Laker center, Shaq sent Webber on a few flights of his own. Backing in, or "backing down" a defender that has established position has allowed brawn to replace skill and talent. Wilt Chamberlain had that turnaround fade-away jumper and Wes Unseld developed the quick release and beat his opponent down the floor because they could not use their bulk to just muscle defenders out of the way. Daryl Dawkins spent an inordinate amount of time on the bench because of that very same "offensive" move. If backing in were a legitimate offensive move, Chocolate Thunder would be in the Hall of Fame.
Pro-basketball has become a high priced game of streetball. My disappointment with it can be summarized by paraphrasing the late great John Wooden - they need to enforce the rules. And if that Kings/Lakers Game 6 was not fixed, then those referees should not even be allowed to officiate a pee-wee midnight basketball game.
A FOOTNOTE: As the date for Lebron James' free agency closed in, media entities were repeatedly cashing in. It was the lead story on almost every television and radio sports show as well as many news programs. His pending decision was the kind of non-stop sensation that sponsors love to invest in. When persons such as NBA Commissioner David Stern and ring-challenged "analyst" Charles Barkley disparage Lebron, it exposes a widespread ignorance.
A lot of money has changed hands exploiting Lebron James' talent, name and image surrounding his free agency. For James to take a modicum of control to have some of the vast amount of funds, circulating at his expense, benefit something he cares about was wise, generous and charitable. And the attacks on Lebron James' character and judgment regarding his appearance on ESPN to announce "THE DECISION" have been short-sighted and idiotic.