Monday, July 23, 2007

Even though every moron and his brother has seen fit to weigh in on the NBA officiating scandal, I still want to put in my two cents. There are aspects of this story that surprised the hell out of just about every American fan. It sort of reminded me of the famous scene from Casablanca where Claude Rains as Captain Renault (the prefect of police) shuts down Rick's under orders from the Germans. The pretext he used is that there was illicit gambling going on in the bar. And as he is claiming to be shocked at that fact, the croupier walks up to him and hands him his winnings.

As a nation of sports fans, we have exhibited the same basic reaction as Captain Renault. We have the nerve to be shocked by this story when we ought to come out and admit that we're really surprised that it has taken this long for an official in one of our major sports to be implicated in a mess like this, or we would be if we weren't so monumentally naive. Officials don't make a lot of money and they have a pretty thankless job. I'm surprised only one of them has allegedly been fixing games.

Another thing that surprised me was Mark Cuban's response to this situation. I would have bet money that he'd have come out in his blog whining about the number of Mavs games Ted Donaghy reffed which featured questionable or controversial calls. Perhaps I was blinded by my hatred. To his credit, the Benefactor came out with a shockingly moderate response and provided a vote of confidence for the league office. I don't agree with him, but I found it to be a not entirely unpleasant surprise.

I don't want us to lose sight of the real victim here. Poor Bill Simmons is now dangerously close to experiencing an identity crisis of epic proportions. For 6 years now, he has managed to walk the fine line between being a wholly owned subsidiary of David Stern and daring to come out of the Commissioner's pocket once in a great while to criticize the league. Now he might have to pick a side, and it might hurt him a little bit.

When I discuss basketball in this space, I think I have made it explicit that I am not impressed with David Stern. He got to where he is today by stabbing his boss in the back. The NBA is falling down around his ears, and the most proactive solution he could come up with is a player dress code. But people claim he's the best commissioner in professional sports today?

The NFL gets better and stronger with each passing year. Their players get involved in ugly off-field incidents and the league comes down with a new player conduct policy. I'm still not a fan of it, but it's a genuine response. Pro basketball players fire into the air outside the strippie, enter the stands to accost and/or assault paying customers and the ratings decline year in and year out, but they have a fancy dress code.

Am I missing something here? Do I need to start smoking dope? How does any sane person look at that and think David Stern is the best commissioner in sports today? So what if the NBA runs a tighter ship than hockey or baseball? Is the constant struggle to attain mediocrity now what a person ought to aspire to?

Here's a thought: maybe David Stern should have been wondering whether one of his officials might have had a gambling problem. Maybe the Commish should have considered the possibility that an official with an alleged gambling problem might possibly come under the thumb of organized crime figures. And maybe one of his officials with an alleged gambling problem and alleged ties to alleged organized crime figures might allegedly take a hand in altering the outcome of games in which he was officiating.

Unless one can solve that problem with a new dress code, Stern could be in a little bit of trouble on this one. I think he might want to put the World's #1 Sports Commissioner mug on the back shelf for a little while. Before I leave this topic, I want to ask a rhetorical question. Every year the NBA playoffs seem to get worse from a fan standpoint. Is it a coincidence that the NBA championship trophy is the Larry O'Brien trophy and said O'Brien is the boss who was stabbed in the back by David Stern?

In other news, Jon Lester was impressive in his debut. And I don't really care. Don't get me wrong, it's awesome that his cancer is in remission. It's just that I wish him good health but professional failure. Also, it doesn't help that I hate the Indians. I had a hard time summoning up the energy to root for them tonight.

Finally, while my people seem to have hit a roadblock in advancing my candidacy for President of Red Sox Nation, it won't stop me from ripping Bill Simmons again tonight. I forgot to mention last week when I linked to his podcast addressing his flap with the Remdawg, Bill Simmons managed to make himself the dean of the Max Mercy Hall of Fame.

Simmons said that he wasn't going to feud with Jerry Remy because he didn't feud with second basemen with a lifetime OPS of less than .660. Which is a pretty damning insult coming from Bill Simmons. Out of curiosity, I went to Baseball Reference to set up one of their statistical comparisons to see what the Sports Guy's lifetime OPS was. And the damnedest thing happened. The comparison engine didn't work. It took me a while to figure out why. Then I realized Simmons never played the game.

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