One of the dumbest things that I used to hear from coaches during my refereeing days was something in the realm of, "Hey Todd, look at the scoreboard - it's 7-1 in fouls!", or 6-2, or 5-0, or whatever, any time there was some significant difference in the number of fouls between the two teams. My usual retort was, "sorry coach - I just call 'em, I don't count 'em". And the truth is that over the course of a game, fouls sometimes even themselves out...and well, sometimes not.
Let's take for example this year's Minnesota Timberwolves, who committed per game an average of 5.5 more fouls (!) than their opponent, and on the other hand, Memphis, which committed on average 3.04 fouls less. Why? Maybe Minnesota was a poor defensive club; maybe they had some especially rough players; maybe they fouled a lot during the last couple of minutes when they were behind in close games (which was often)... and maybe Memphis was just plain soft?
In my own country, Maccabi Tel Aviv, the almost perennial champion, fouls a lot more than other teams. Is it because the referees in Israel don't like Maccabi? Or maybe, just maybe, because they have a deep bench and can afford to make more fouls, and because they teach players to stop the fast break and drives to the basket by fouling?
Which bring us of course to the big news of the week, which isn't of course Boston's great comeback in Game 4, or the Lakers' almost great comeback from 24 down with 7 minutes to go in Game 2, but the latest court submission by former referee and the now officially criminal Tim Donaghy who in his latest missive accused NBA executives and referees of broad misconduct and outright manipulation of game results (all as part of his quest to get a lighter sentence).
The main evidence for Donaghy's accusations (and what in fact would be a felony), revolves around Game 6 of the 2002 Western Conference Finals between the Lakers and Sacramento, won eventually by L.A. 106-102 and in which they shot 27 foul shots in the 4th quarter alone. I was of course not at the game, and only after reading about it again do I have some vague recollection (clearly Sacramento fans remember the game very well), but let's say for a moment that there was in fact a "conspiracy": how exactly would that work?
Fortunately, after "JFK", "Nixon" and "WTC", Oliver Stone's new movie, "NBA", is already in the can and ready to be shown at a theatre near you. I have, of course, recevied an advance script of a particularly revealing conversation that took place in 2002 at the Dallas Bergin Hunt and Gefilte Fish Club, between Commissioner David Stern, and veteran referee Dick Bavetta, who until now, was best known for kissing Charles Barkley on the lips after their charity foot race during the 2007 All-star weekend.
(Stern) "Hey Paisano, vus machstu" (Yiddish for "whassup")?
(Bavetta) "I wish you wouldn't call me Paisano - you're only a Jersey guy, while I'm from Brooklyn"
(Stern) "Yeah, well, I'm still the capo di tutti capo here - hey listen, got a little job for you.
(Stern) "We got LA down 3-2 and going back to Sacramento. We'd love some big TV ratings for a game 7 - think you could take care of this?
(Bavetta) "Yeah sure, but we gotta talk first"
(Stern) "Sure, no problem. Why don't you pop on down here to Dallas - I got Danny Crawford taking care of the Mavs as we talk. Did you know they are 2-14 in playoff games that he's reffed since Cuban took over? I never liked those young whipper-snappers from Pittsburgh anyways."
(Bavetta) "Where do we meet?"
(Stern) "I got this office over by the Texas Book Depository, nice view, but I think Cuban's got the place bugged. There's a little grassy knoll nearby - maybe we can talk about the game there. Oh yeah, and bring along Delaney and Bernhardt. They'll be perfect for what I got in mind."
And here's more fuel for the conspiracy fire: did you know that Bavetta went to Power Memorial High School, which is where of course, Kareem Abdul Jabbar graduated (8 years apart), and we know whom he used to play for! The LAKERS!! Ladies and gentlemen, case closed!
Charlie Sheen will be playing the title role of NBA commissioner, David Stern. Sheen's qualifications became apparent after 9/11 when he stated to Alex Jones, who has an Internet radio show on Infowars.com and Prisonplanet.com: "Call me insane, but did it sort of look like those buildings came down in a controlled demolition?"
By the way, has anyone ever really looked at the box score from the famous 2002 6th game? The Lakers had 40 total free throws (Shaq 13-17; Kobe 11-11) and Sacramento 25. In other words, a 15 free throw difference doesn't exactly seem to be the kind of stuff that would get Rudy Giuliani and the Southern District frothing at the mouth.
Now we come to 2008, and of course the Grassy-knoll Gang is having a field day fueled by Donaghy's court submission, the timing of which is no doubt hardly coincidental. OK, so in Game 2 the Lakers shot 10 foul shots to the Celtics' 38 - what exactly does that prove? Maybe it proves that the Celtics did a much better job of trying to get to the basket, and that Odom and Gasol and friends were soft on defense (as they have been most of the series), and that Boston did a great job on Kobe.
And what about Game 3? L.A. took the first 20 of 24 free throws and Kobe got to the line 18 times. The only noticeable item from this statistic is that the Celtics didn't whine about it after the game like Kobe and Phil did.
After reading so much of the crap - and that's exactly what it is - written by otherwise intelligent people, I realize (once again) that sportswriters and commentators have almost no idea as to what basketball referees do, or how they do it. You have to feel for a guy like Dick Bavetta and the rest of his colleagues in the NBA, who while they make mistakes (and generally not many), are the best at what they do in the hardest sport of them all to referee.