In the press conference for the 2007 NBA All-Star game in La Vegas, league commissioner David Stern was asked about gambling in the pro loop. The commish took a moment to massage his forehead, shook his head, and then delivered a sharp but curt reply. The media continued with the line of questioning forcing Stern to backpedal, force a smile and answer in a most congenial manner. After all, the commissioner is a smart man and any display of anger could be interpreted as being on the defensive.
For years, the NBA has had to fend off conspiracy theories and it was never more evident this year after the Western Conference Finals wherein two Phoenix Suns players were suspended after getting off the bench in a near altercation. The subsequent suspension although correct to the letter – but not in the spirit of the game -- forever altered the outcome of the series and may have allowed the San Antonio Spurs a clear lane to their fourth Larry O’Brien trophy.
And that was before the indefinite suspension of veteran zebra Joey Crawford “for grandstanding” – you’ll love this… against those same Spurs. Now comes the hard part… 13-year referee Tim Donaghy is being investigated by the FBI for game fixing and betting on the outcomes of matches.
And Mark Cuban’s first reaction is probably a smug “I told you so” before screaming “Oh my God” and running to his Tivo to review the 2006 NBA Finals that his Dallas Mavericks lost to the Miami Heat. Did Donaghy officiate any match? Well, it should also be interesting to note that he worked the game that is now dubbed the infamous Malice at the Palace.
Now every player will revisit and contemplate calls made in the dying seconds of some matches. Now does holding the All-Star Weekend and USA Basketball matches in Sin City seem like a good idea? Now the suspicion of dirty officials will spread all the way to the college game and who knows where.
Maybe the sporting leagues everywhere must look into the inclusion of Instant Replay (similar to how the NFL’s enforces it) to ensure fairness for all. Will this slow the game down? Most definitely, but it will try to eliminate controversial calls and endings.
And does that mean we’re going to take a long and hard look at the way local basketball is officiated? Any local hoops fan worth his salt will know of the whispers of game fixing, betting, and point shaving. In fact, one player who just left his college team is believed by its coaching staff to have thrown a match or two. Now shouldn’t officials instigate thorough background checks? Why let this pass? The UAAP has been beset by a variety of ills over the last few years and its board has chosen to deal with their stink either passively or in a lame duck manner. For what – political concessions later on?
A former official of another hoops association once told me in confidence that they discovered that a veteran referee was always regulating matches by one particular team. The veteran ref was given a graceful exit on the pretext of health reasons to prevent a probe or even irreparable damage to the game. But the official is now an ex-official because the owner of the squad in question demanded his pound of flesh.
The stigma of game fixing is something that doesn’t just go away. It has long-lasting repercussions that can kill a league. Now I wonder what Stern would trade for just to have (Major League Baseball counterpart) Bud Selig’s steroid scandal or (National Football League Commissioner) Roger Goodell’s Michael Vick problem?
Speaking of officials, top honchos from the Philippine Olympic Committee and the Philippine Sports Commission have dropped football and baseball from the national sides that will be competing in the 24th SEA Games in Thailand this coming December. The volleyball teams were said to have voluntarily dropped out since it was deemed they were rookie-laden and far from a medal hopeful team.
Football has been on an upsurge of sorts in the last two years. When we bombed out of the Asean Cup earlier this year is not the point. So how do they gain performance continuity and the opportunity to play against top-flight competition if they’re banished to domestic play? Didn’t we climb the FIFA rankings in the last few months?
The sad thing about that is when the PSC and POC made this announcement, the Philippine Football Federation (PFF) wasn’t informed at all. In fact, in a phone conversation with PFF President Johnny Romualdez last Friday morning, he knew nothing of this. Go infer what you want from this.
And I can’t believe the gall of the University of Santo Tomas to ask the UAAP Board if Jojo Duncil who “decided to turn pro” can still suit up since he really is of legit age! Whether or not he is legit is not the point. He submitted two birth certificates (with two different birth years said to be the parents’ fault since they were the ones they filed them) and after weeks denying there was a problem they sheepishly admitted that both sides were moving on. UST already submitted a line-up and it would be bad form to tinker with it even with half the first round done. I didn’t see any clemency when the Ateneo baseball team’s victories were overturned in Season 69 when one of its players who is a long-time Philippine resident didn’t have his Alien Certificate of Registration papers in order.
The action should be on the playing field not in the sidelines. But you have to admit that controversy does make for good theater and more ticket sales. Now that’s preferable to game fixing.
Tuesday, July 24, 2007