NBA or WWF?
No question about it. The officiating in the recently concluded Kings-Lakers series was biased, and it was a major factor in the outcome of the series. It’s an open secret that NBA officials show favoritism to established stars, and since the Lakers have the two biggest stars in the game, Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant, the officiating in the series favored the Lakers. Throw in the fact that the NBA makes a lot more money when L.A., the biggest TV market in the country, goes to the finals, and you’ve got grounds for a conspiracy theory to rival anything on The X-Files.
Is this sour grapes? We don’t think so. No less an authority than Lakers coach Phil Jackson stated that “the Kings deserved to win,” and many commentators around the country have agreed. And as for referees, it was O’Neal who spilled the beans.
After Game 2, a Kings victory, O’Neal said, “If the outcome is going to be predicted WWF-style [now known as WWE], let me know so I’m not out there busting my butt for nothing. Those who understand the game know what really went on.” O’Neal was saying that the NBA had scripted the outcome in the same way that professional wrestling leagues do. Rather than see Sacramento trail two games to none and watch the TV ratings go in the dumper, O’Neal implied the league had given the game to the Kings.
The tables quickly turned, however, as Sacramento gained confidence and became the aggressor, winning Game 3 and jumping to a 24-point lead in the first half of Game 4. Then, as if scripted WWF-style, the Lakers made a remarkable comeback, aided by an officiating crew that counted a three-point shot at the end of the first half even though it had clearly been released after time expired, then didn’t call fouls as the Lakers instated a brutal, bump-and-run full-court press. When the Lakers won on a dramatic, last-second shot, it was obvious that the officiating had been a deciding factor.
The trend continued, as O’Neal miraculously avoided foul trouble despite his bone-jarring style of play and Kings defenders racked up fouls. Why? And why, with the Kings trailing by one and just seconds remaining in Game 6, when Bryant ran over the Kings’ Mike Bibby, elbowing him in the face as he tried to break free of Bibby’s defense, was no foul called? Why didn’t Bibby go to the foul line with a chance to win the game?
Veteran coach Rick Majerus, writing on the series for the Los Angeles Times, explained it this way: “This is a fact of life. The referees won’t acknowledge it, may not even know it outwardly. But there is a pecking order in the game. The stars get treated better.” In other words, Kobe and Shaq got the calls because they’re stars.
That’s not basketball. That’s WWF-style melodrama, and it shouldn’t be tolerated. This year, it cost the best team—and the best fans—a trip to the finals. Commissioner David Stern needs to show integrity, take on this issue and save the credibility of the game before the real fans start tuning out.