The NBA Playoffs are over, and I couldn't have scripted it better myself. I'm not saying it is rigged, that it was designed that way, that officials are instructed give special privileges to certain players or any other conspiracy theory. I don't have adequate evidence to support those specific ideas. What we do have is masses of empirical evidence for obvious, unbalanced officiating towards certain teams and players every game.
Why this happens is non-consequential. If the officials are hypnotized by Erik Spoelstra's coaching staff before a game or they just coincidentally get calls consistently wrong in a single teams net favor really doesn't matter. The change in outcome hurts the integrity/likability of the game. At-least for me. Anyone who is not biased, ignorant, uninterested, blind or dumb should know this. Sadly, that is not many people and of the remaining few they usually don't care or unadmittedly support it.
This popular view for the sport was tumpeted perfectly by ESPN and SB Nation contributor Bomani Jones in a shockingly honest piece of satire addressing the 2012 Playoff series between the Pacers and Heat.
"Sorry Pacers fans... you are just a placeholder for the rest of us. I'm just saying, if it looked like the league was manipulating the outcome of a game, I may or may not look the other way... I'll swallow a lie or two in the name of a good time... Some say this makes basketball like wrestling. Guess what, I'd rather watch wraslin' than Pacers - Sixers... So I got a message for you David Stern, do whatever you gotta do."
- Bomani Jones http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YeUg9aji8AQ
A great example of this type of bias is showcased in an article by NBA writer Sekou Smith concerning a "controversial" call resulting in Lebron James fouling out of Pacers - Heat Game 4.
Here is the video of the call:
Now a fair and reasoned person can easily see that this screen by James violates the NBA official rules on three different counts:
- A player who sets a screen shall not assume a position nearer than a normal step from an opponent, if that opponent unaware of the screener's position.
- A player who sets a screen shall not assume a position so near to a moving opponent that he is not given an opportunity to stop and/or change direction before making illegal contact.
- A player who sets a screen shall not move laterally or toward an opponent being screened, after having assumed a legal position.
Oh yeah, and he did step on his foot and trip him.
While this is so evident the TNT commentators still complain about how it was a flop by Stevenson or they are "just not sure about that call".
Then sports "journalists" point out the statistics of how, "In 765 career regular-season games, LeBron James had fouled out only four of them. In 127 playoff games, he had fouled out once." Is this somehow supposed to be an argument that he just doesn't foul? Contrary to that point, this is more likely evidence that the most utilized, aggressive, physical and attacking player in the NBA gets preferential treatment.
Lebron's comments concerning this are even more laughable:
"I didn't believe it was an offensive foul... I was going to set a screen, and I felt like I was stationary... Lance actually ran into me." He continues on with comments about the officiating that would get any other player fined.
In Sekou's article there is a poll asking whether this was a foul or not. The results: Bad Call - 54% Good Call - 38%. What? How can such an obvious foul even be questioned, let alone be controversial and have such results?
Overshadowed by controversial end-of-game calls, the consistent and absurd bias for one team, over-and-over, game-after-game always becomes a wash and then forgotten or ignored by the sports media and fans. But we can't expect the league to change as the NBA lacks honor or an incentive to change. In the meantime, the Pacers are just going to have to develop to where there are so much better that they can win despite an un-level playing field and the 10+ point handicap a Heat-like team regularly receives.