Bill Simmons has a rare Sunday article on the state of the NBA after the Donaghy story. Great stuff.
More than any other professional league, an NBA referee can directly affect the outcome of every game. We've seen it happen time and time again, only we always assumed that the refs in question were working for the best interests of the league, that they were following orders like Luca Brasi (even if there was no definitive proof) -- like the guys who worked Game 6 of the Kings-Lakers series in 2002, or Game 7 of the Suns-Sonics series in 1993, or the infamous Hubert Davis Game in 1994. After Dwyane Wade and Miami received some Vince McMahon-level assistance in Games 3 and 4 of the 2006 Finals, I wrote an angry column about the "officiating crisis" (my words) that prompted Mavs owner Mark Cuban (tired of being fined) to post the link on his blog along with the sentence, "I never have to say a word again." After Dallas squandered that series, Cuban was so traumatized by the officiating that he nearly sold the Mavericks before family and friends talked him out of it.
What's the big picture? Well, the regular season is effectively meaningless. Contenders can only improve to a point because of the luxury tax, so everyone searches for that same half-assed "we want to contend for a title, but we don't want to lose $20 million this season" competitive zone that leads to deals like Kurt Thomas and two first-round picks for a second-round pick and a 2006 trade deadline in which the biggest move involved Anthony Johnson. Fan interest peaks at three points -- at the start of the season, at the start of the first round of the playoffs, and right before the draft -- and dips at every other point. For seven of the last 10 seasons, the best two teams in the league played before the Finals -- which seems so incredibly shortsighted, I can't even begin to fathom how it's allowed to continue. And worst of all, when an NBA official was accused of fixing games, the prevailing reaction was "Which one?"Definitely worth reading the entire article.
It really is amazing that a story this huge could be so unsurprising. If anything, I think the fact that everyone already hated NBA refs will strangely help the NBA. People knew the officiating was crap, and now people are thinking that maybe serious effort will actually be made to fix it. We can hope anyway...