The Fix Is (Still) In

So I was watching Outside the Lines on ESPN and they were showing clips of the Tim Donaghy interview. At the conclusion, they made mention of a poll running on ESPN.com, where the question was posed, “How will Tim Donaghy’s claims influence how you watch NBA games.”

And the possible responses were: A) Will never view games the same way or B) No, influence, he isn’t credible.

My immediate reaction was, where’s C) It confirms something I knew innately to be true and won’t change a gosh-darned thing about how I watch NBA games. Why isn’t that a possible poll choice, ESPN.com?

Does anyone on this forum really think games are officiated fairly? Does anyone doubt that since the dawn of time, superstars (whether it’s Kobe, or Magic or Michael, or Larry or Dr. J or Hakeem or Shaq or LeBron or any of the pantheon of individuals who can be readily identified by their first name only) have gotten and will continue to get the calls. Now, the majority of my NBA-gazing is occupied by Nix games, but over the last 25 (gulp) years, I can say that our boys have always gotten hosed by the refs (the Hue Hollins call in game 5 in the ’94 semis v. the Bulls being the exception that proves the rule. But then again, his royal Nike-peddlingness was swatting the horsehide that summer, so maybe it isn’t an exception after all.)

In my early years of fandom, I keenly recall staring dumbly at Channel 9 (we didn’t have cable) and being utterly unable to fathom why Kevin McHale was allowed to use those ultra-sharp elbows of his to whack away at Pat Cummings, Ken “The Animal” Bannister, Louie Orr and others of their ilk with impunity whilst any mere mortal (see above) who dared fart in Bird’s general direction was immediately showered with whistles and a series of arcane/disco-like gestures from the refs. Even at that early age, I could tell that some players/teams were favored for reasons at that time, seemed beyond me. After all, I loved Mike Newlin. Why did the refs seem to hate him so much?

So this afternoon on the teevee, when Donaghy said that he was able to predict/bet on games with 75-80% accuracy simply because he knew who favored/loathed which players, my first thought was, “Duh! Of course you can. If you’re in the locker room, chewing the fat with the other refs, of course you’re going to hear who hates Rasheed Wallace or who loves Mike Fratello’s teams. (What that’s about I’ll never know. Possibly there’s a rogue ref who just loves the movie, “Hoosiers,” or something and pines for a return to those days of yore.) When you combine that with the unstated (or secretly stated) mandate to build up/market individual talents that Stern instituted to promote the league during the financially problematic years pre-Bird/Magic/Jordan, it’s clear how one could make a crapload of cash betting on the NBA.”

It’s one of the things that actually, in my own perverse kink, leads me to prefer watching b-ball to the Jets or the Mets (Yes, I know. I’ve really picked some winners there). I know that it’s not a level playing field and that seems to me to be a far more apt parallel to the world at large than the pristine, pastoral, Jeffersonian/democratic ideal (pre-‘Roids) presented by MLB or the power/precision, crypto-fascist, ground acquisition/military conquest paradigm put forth by the NFL. In both cases, while there are certainly times that I’ll fling inanimate objects and howl in horror at a botched call, for the most part, the refs/umps do a good job and I never get the impression that the game is in the bag for a particular team and/or player.

But, if I was the kind of individual who believed that the world was for the most part a fair and just place, I’m sure I’d be out there painting my face and clutching a Bud more often. But I don’t.

I’m a New Yorker. This is New York. We know that the fix is in. Solving that wholly unsolvable problem is far less important than making sure we’ve got the inside dope/skinny and can profit accordingly.

It’s why it’s so essential that Walsh is able to snag a LeBron or Dwyane. Not only because they are supreme talents, but because having a superstar who gets the benefit of the doubt is the best way to win a title over the last 30 years in the NBA. [Ed’s note: Also LeBron or Wade provide a little more production than say Jared Jeffries or Wilson Chandler.]

Our one chance at a super-duper star, Patrick Ewing was never qualified to join the first-name only club. I’m not sure why. Maybe it is because some unseen force wanted him to be Bill Russell 2.0 and he wasn’t. Maybe because all the grunts and the profuse sweating made him lack the grace and/or effortlessness that true stars seem to possess. It never seemed easy for our Patrick. I mean, he worked like a mofo for every basket/rebound/block he ever got but he never made the unbelievable play that simultaneously seemed routine. And while he was allowed to take an extra step or two when he rolled to the middle to unleash that trusty jump hook of his, because his archetype was that of the working-class hero, he was never anointed by the refs to the degree that would have/could have pushed those Riley/Van Gundy era teams over the top. To whit: If Jordan had strayed a few steps off the bench in ’97 do you think there’s any way he’d have been suspended for game 6? No way. Ain’t gonna happen.

So while Stern frets about the perception/bottom line of his beloved league as Timmy D the canary keeps singing his song, were he to seek my council, I’d say, relax Dave! We real fans get it. Nudge nudge, wink wink. Say no more.