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The glamour of the Celtics-Lakers finals was torn away almost immediately before it began as a letter was leaked from the US Attorney’s office and into the beginning of the series when Donaghy’s allegations about the league fixing games were made.
For a league where many have joked about the bad refereeing and the rigged draft lottery, the jokes stopped being funny. It is up to the league to prove its innocence in the matter or face public discorn and a likely decrease in popularity of the game. After all, people want to watch basketball, not the professional wrestling version of basketball. For that, they can use video games, after all.
We have no doubt as to whether Donaghy himself influenced games for his own personal gain. And it is likely, even though the NBA will say otherwise, that other referees did as well. The NBA for years has been very secretive about the inside workings. We saw this when they decided to do their own internal study of referee racial bias.
No sports league wants to open up, though, unless they’re doing badly financially. When the league is doing well, they don’t want the public to be able to see into their machinations, so that they can cry to the public for support that isn’t needed (see: Marlins, Florida) or even better yet threaten to move elsewhere. Heck, we even have an NBA team now trying to move elsewhere (the Seattle Supersonics) and they somehow were dumb enough to leave trace of their scheming up ways to get out of Seattle and still financially take advantage of the public.
You should need no more proof of the moral corruption that is displayed by a large number of sports team owners, but if you need more, e-mail me and I can show you more. And Bill Simmons is still convinced that the NBA fixed the 1985 lottery to hand the Knicks Patrick Ewing (The second blog entry down, since ESPN makes it hard to link to their blog content. And they wonder why their blogs are not the most popular).
That’s why if the NBA is fixing games it would not surprise me. A corrupt bunch of people is likely to elect someone who matches their interests. Obviously, it’s in the league’s best interest to be able to have it’s superstars play prominent roles in games. However, it is disgusting that the league would try and have the referees ignore fouls or skew the result to lengthen a series. The league has come out already in denial of such accusations, but if an investigation leads to any leaked information, I suspect we’ll find out that the league did engage in such activity.
But, honestly, what sort of professional sports league allows for there to be a ref fixing games for his own gain (who only got caught because of an FBI investigation, not an NBA one) and for itself to fix games in a curious manner that leads to a suspicious fan base? This has the potential to be worse than the Patriots spying on other teams. Unlike steroids, this would be a matter that Congress would be right to hold hearings on and to try and make the league accountable for. Deceiving customers by claiming to be a sport and then presenting an entertainment product (that is, a fixed-result product) instead is ultimately wrong.
Even if it turns out that these accusations are false, the NBA is far from done cleaning up its image. David Stern should work on that, or face a legacy that will be marked negatively by this era of his time as commissioner, as opposed to the more successful efforts of his time at the helm.