NBA officiating: get me to a sports book

I’ve probably watched more NBA games this season than ever before, and those of you who have indulged my rantings in the past know I have … issues … with The League. Frankly, I wish they’d bring back Tim Donaghy so we can all stop pretending.


Anyway, I am now more convinced than ever that I see a predictable, systematic pattern (of a non-objective nature) in how certain games are officiated, and I bet I could prove it. Here’s how the study would work.

  • First, I’d need to identify a Las Vegas sports book that would take just about any bet I want to make. On the fly.
  • At the midway point of the 3rd quarter in any NBA game where the spread is 20 points or more (we’ll start with 20 – the actual break point might wind up being lower), bet the under on the final margin. If Team A is up by 20 at the 6-minute mark, bet the house that the final margin will be fewer than 20 points.

What’s the rationale here? I have seen blowouts in the making time and time again this year. I’ve seen one team that was on it like a pit bull on a raw ribeye while the other team clearly wanted to be anywhere but on the floor. 20-point margins on the fast track for 40, and all of a sudden, WHAM – three touch fouls, a questionable charging and an offensive 3-second call. Two minutes into the 4th and it’s a 12-point game.

Sure, there are blowouts (did you see the beatdown El Heat laid on Los Spurs last night?) but it has gotten to the point where, at a certain point, with things threatening to get out of hand, I sit up and beginwaiting for the tone of the reffing to shift. My suspicions are frequently rewarded.

But why? Ummm, random chance, I suppose. We certainly have no evidence that the officials are doing it intentionally, right? No conspiracy theory here, folks.

Now, if I were the sort to speculate about conspiracies, I might be tempted to speculate that:

  • The League likes dramatic finishes.
  • They like game-winning shots.
  • They like all the commercial breaks you get at the end of tight games, where eight seconds takes ten minutes of real time to complete.

Even if they don’t care who wins, late-game drama buys them lots of shelf space on SportsCenter, and that’s free promotion for I Love This Fucking Game. You know, Where Amazing Stuff Happens. Like time travel.

Or maybe I’m completely wrong. I suppose the data to prove or disprove my theory exists already, doesn’t it? Game logs should be able to tell me the score of any game at any particular point, you’d think. So somebody in the NBA offices could probably tell me in a couple of hours if I’m imagining things.

And that’s exactly what they’d tell me, isn’t it?

In any case, that’s some data I’d love to see with my own eyes, because if I’m wrong I’d like to know it. Paranoia does not make for an ideal sports viewing experience.

Categories: Sports

5 replies »

  1. Did you here the latest NBA ref scandal? An AP reporter tweeted Timberwolves coach Kurt Rambis was bitching about a blown call by Bill Spooner that gave the Houston Rockets a basket. Spooner allegedly said Rambis would “get it back” and then made an even worse call against the Rockets. Rambis denies he said anything and is suing the reporter.;_ylt=AuAJTXX.bzWYrBWoaurUh6O8vLYF?urn=nba-333790

  2. I share your paranoia, Sam. Watching the NBA hasn’t been enjoyable for a long time … and your analysis just adds to the reasons why.

  3. I don’t watch that much NBA anymore, but this sounds like the Middle School games a coach I work with has been telling me about. ANY time a “too big” lead opens up, the winning team starts pulling fouls. Even in the first quarter. Don’t want any unhappy players. Really don’t want any unhappy parents. She said she can just about predict when the penalties will start being called. NBA=MS?

    • I’m waiting for somebody to argue that when teams get big leads they automatically seem to let down, but so far nobody is suggesting that. Which is good, because the teams lay down and die when they’re getting thumped rebuttal is loaded and waiting.

      Cat: I don’t even want to think what happens when you get that pack of parents involved. I’m surprised you don’t have parents suing the opposition when their precious children have their esteem bruised by bad losses. But, hey wait – you mean they’re keeping score AT ALL? How barbaric. Years of therapy, here we come….

      Oh, damn. And I had promised that I’d give up snark for Lent….