Tonight, the Los Angeles Lakers will square off with the visiting Denver Nuggets in a first-round playoff Game 7 that promises to be crackling with intensity. I’m a big fan of my hometown Nugs and I expect them to bring their A games.
I also expect them to lose, no matter what, because however well prepared they are, however brilliant George Karl’s game planning, however incredibly they may shoot and rebound and defend, they’re playing 5-on-8.
Put simply, it is not in the league’s financial interest to have LA lose to Denver. And as I have noted here in the past, when it comes to questionable officiating, the NBA is rivaled only by the WWE. Disgraced former ref Tim Donaghy, who spent some time in the pokey for his role in an NBA gambling scandal, has written a book about his experiences with the Stern Crime Family, and you really should at least read this collection of excerpts at Deadspin. Oh my. Oh my oh my oh my.
But how can a guy get away with writing these things? I mean, he’s a convicted felon essentially arguing that the NBA is one great big fix and calling out his former colleagues by name. How is he not getting his ugly polyester britches sued off? Good question. As I explained back in 2009:
In these interviews, Donaghy claims that inside knowledge allowed him to bet effectively. Specifically, he says his track record of success in betting games in which he was not involved was between 70 and 80%. This is against the spread, remember, so we’re not talking about betting good teams against bad ones. This is 70-80% on a level playing field. If he knew who the teams were and who the refs were, his intimate knowledge of who hated who made it possible to predict outcomes with a ridiculous level of success.
The killing blow here? His claims are backed up by the lead FBI agent who investigated his case, which addresses the credibility issue we talked about above. We don’t have to take the word of a convicted felon – we have the word of Phillip Scala, a highly placed, experienced law enforcement professional who knows his away around corruption.
If I’m the NBA and its refs, I ain’t suing nobody because the last thing in hell I need is this shit show in a federal court and lots of people on the stand knowing what happens when you perjure yourself in that forum. No thank you. We’ll let the PR boys handle this one and leave the lawyers on the bench, shall we?
Which brings me back around to tonight’s game. My initial prediction for who’d be assigned to ref the game went like this:
- Dick Bavetta
- Tim Donaghy
- The Lakers’ VP of Marketing
- Also, maybe they’d let Kobe carry a whistle, just to formalize things
Hah. I’m a funny guy. The actual assignments are out, though, and they look like this:
- Mike “Duke” Callahan
- Bill Spooner
- Derrick Stafford
Of course, [Derrick] Stafford had some friends in the league, too. I worked a Knicks game in Madison Square Garden with him on February 26, 2007. New York shot an astounding 39 free throws that night to Miami’s paltry eight. It seemed like Stafford was working for the Knicks, calling fouls on Miami like crazy. Isiah Thomas was coaching the Knicks, and after New York’s four-point victory, a guy from the Knicks came to our locker room looking for Stafford, who was in the shower. He told us that Thomas sent him to retrieve Stafford’s home address; apparently, Stafford had asked the coach before the game for some autographed sneakers and jerseys for his kids. Suddenly, it all made sense.
Referee Jess Kersey was another one of Isiah Thomas’ guys. They’d talk openly on the phone as if they had known each other since childhood. Thomas even told Kersey that he was pushing to get Ronnie Nunn removed from the supervisor’s job so that Kersey and Dick Bavetta could take over. This sort of thing happened all the time, and I kept waiting for a Knicks game when Stafford, Bavetta, and Kersey were working together. It was like knowing the winning lottery numbers before the drawing!
And then there’s Mike “Duke” Callahan:
We had another variation of this gag simply referred to as the “first foul of the game” bet. While still in the locker room before tip-off, we would make a wager on which of us would call the game’s first foul. That referee would either have to pay the ball boy or pick up the dinner tab for the other two referees. Sometimes, the ante would be $50 a guy. Like the technical foul bet, it was hilarious — only this time we were testing each other’s nerves to see who had the guts to hold out the longest before calling a personal foul. There were occasions when we would hold back for two or three minutes — an eternity in an NBA game — before blowing the whistle. It didn’t matter if bodies were flying all over the place; no fouls were called because no one wanted to lose the bet.
During one particular summer game, Duke Callahan, Mark Wunderlich, and I made it to the three-minute mark in the first quarter without calling a foul. We were running up and down the court, laughing our asses off as the players got hammered with no whistles. The players were exhausted from the nonstop running when Callahan finally called the first foul because Mikki Moore of the New Jersey Nets literally tackled an opposing player right in front of him. Too bad for Callahan — he lost the bet.
Well. This certainly sets my mind at ease. I actually liked my lineup better, I think.
I’ll still be rooting for my Nuggets, but it will be kinda the same way I rooted for CM Punk in that handicap match on Raw last week. It’s the eternal tale of good vs. evil, of the righteous individual hero battling the rigged system and knowing the deck is stacked against him no matter what he does. He has no hope, but for the viewer, merely participating in the ritual drama nonetheless reaffirms the essential morality of the noble warrior fighting for justice in a corrupt society.
If there’s a niche for professional wrestling in America, then there’s certainly no reason why the NBA can’t continue to thrive. I mean, hell, I’ve watched Caddyshack at least 25 times and I know it’s going to end, too. And if the Nuggets do somehow manage to win tonight, overcoming Kobe and Pau and DSM-V Metta World Peace and the refs and Vince McMahon David Stern running down to ringside and screaming “RING THE BELL! RING THE BELL!” just think of the money to be made off of the rematch in next year’s playoffs…