Friday, September 18, 2009

A Work Stoppage No One Cares About

Have you heard? The NBA might go without union referees. Yawn.
The lead negotiator and spokesman for the NBA's referees union said Thursday a lockout appears "imminent and unavoidable" following the latest breakdown in talks.

Lamell McMorris said the officials made another $1 million in concessions in their proposal, but believes it's evident the league is not interested in further discussions. The officials then headed home after spending the last 24 hours meeting in Chicago.

"It's become evident that the league would not be interested in continuing conversation at this time," McMorris said.

The NBA had a similarly pessimistic view.

"I'm not going to handicap it, other than to say there's always time to make an agreement if the parties want to do that," NBA general counsel and lead negotiator Rick Buchanan said. "I'm not optimistic based on what happened today. We'll just have to see what happens."

The contract between the NBA and its officials expired Sept. 1 and the sides have been trying to reach a new two-year deal. McMorris said they largely agree on salaries, but the union has balked at the league's attempt to change retirement benefits.

Besides the severance and pension disagreements, the officials are resisting a league development plan for young officials.

Without a new deal, replacement officials will be used when preseason play opens Oct. 1. The NBA last began a season without its regular referees in 1995-96, when the caliber of officiating was roundly criticized.

So what? The dirty little secret of the NBA is, the gambling scandal has not fully been explained or cleared up. The legitimacy of the sport is gone, as far as I'm concerned. I don't bother watching it anymore. I watched little or no professional basketball last season because I think that the inability of the league to address whether or not other referees had gambling ties amounted to a cover-up that would have been exposed in any other sport for what it was--widespread game fixing and point shaving. Before anyone says, "how do you know?" I have to say, "of course I don't know--but now, no one else will know, because the NBA did a spectacular job of covering it up."

Are the games fixed? I suspect they're not fixed anymore, but I do know this--referee Tim Donaghy had a lot to do with the Lakers win over the Kings in game 6 of the NBA Western Conference playoffs in 2002. I watched that game, and I didn't think anything of it at the time.
The allegations are some of the strongest ever made against the NBA, coming at a time when the officiating of this year's Finals between the Celtics and Lakers has come under heavy scrutiny.

In the letter submitted by Donaghy's attorney, the following "manipulation" is alleged:

"Referees A, F and G were officiating a playoff series between Teams 5 and 6 in May of 2002. It was the sixth game of a seven-game series, and a Team 5 victory that night would have ended the series. However, Tim learned from Referee A that Referees A and F wanted to extend the series to seven games. Tim knew referees A and F to be 'company men,' always acting in the interest of the NBA, and that night, it was in the NBA's interest to add another game to the series. Referees A and F heavily favored Team 6. Personal fouls [resulting in obviously injured players] were ignored even when they occurred in full view of the referees. Conversely, the referees called made-up fouls on Team 5 in order to give additional free throw opportunities for Team 6. Their foul-calling also led to the ejection of two Team 5 players. The referees' favoring of Team 6 led to that team's victory that night, and Team 6 came back from behind to win that series."

Replacement refs? Scab refs? Hey, if the current slate of NBA referees thinks it can win a labor dispute with a corrupt league, then go for it. Organized labor could use a shot in the arm, provided the refs win and get what they want.

My guess is that the fans won't care, won't notice, and life will go on as usual. "Fearing" what will happen assumes we will suffer because there won't be any of that high-end, high class, infallible officiating we've all come to know and love in the NBA. Puh-leeeze.

Bad officiating, and perhaps dishonest officiating, is the norm in the NBA.

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