Wrestling has long been known as the inbred stepson of professional sports. Fans of pro wrestling are often mocked for their education level and hygiene, but most of all they’re belittled for caring about an athletic event whose outcome is decided ahead of time. Fans of “legitimate” sports like football and hockey and tennis can arrogantly look down the noses of wrestling fans for their sport of choice is spontaneous with an ending no one can predict. This difference makes wrestling fans either rubes in denial about the fixed nature of their sport or weirdos who enjoy it because of the spectacle and drama.
As a fan of professional basketball I can have no such superiority complex. The NBA, my preferred form of entertainment is as planned as wrestling, as scripted as a television show, and as phony as a three dollar bill.
Ask any serious fan of the NBA and they will tell you the same thing. Playoff series are extended so there can be more games and thus more revenue. Big market teams with the most famous players like the Los Angeles Lakers, New York Knicks, Chicago Bulls, Boston Celtics or Miami Heat are advanced so that more eyes will be glued to the screen.
There is no definitive proof of this conspiracy (save the testimony of Tim Donaghy a former referee), but any follower of the NBA knows of its existence. It is assumed the architects behind choosing who wins and who loses are a shadowy conglomerate of NBA owners, David Stern, and television executives. The foremen who ensure the chosen team wins each game are the referees. In no other major sport does the referee hold as much sway as in basketball. The power to decide who can shoot free throws and who may not, along with deciding who will be fouled out of a game is the power to decide who wins and who loses.
There was no more blatant example of the referee’s manipulation than the Eastern Conference Finals that just concluded between the Indiana Pacers and the Miami Heat. This year’s playoffs had been a dud. Only one series to that point had gone a full seven games, but there was a fine line the NBA needed to avoid. They wanted Indiana to win some games so the series could be extended, but they did not want some small market team with players no one outside Indianapolis had heard of in the finals at the expense of LeBron James and the Miami Heat.
And so you saw one set of rules applied for games 1 through 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals and another set in game 7. The Indiana Pacers have a center named Roy Hibbert, during the regular season he was fourth in the entire league in fouls committed. Through the first six games it was as if the man could not foul. LeBron James would drive toward the basket, get hammered by Hibbert and they would call an offensive foul on James. At the end of another game Miami’s Dwyane Wade was called for a foul on a three point shot that not only fouled him out of the game, but also gave the Pacers three free throws that could have decided the game. Through the first six games Miami shot 137 free throws to Indiana’s 174 free throws. That averaged out to Indiana shooting over six more free throws a game which prevented Miami from sweeping Indiana in the best of seven series.
But then came game 7. If Indiana won that game ABC would be broadcasting a San Antonio-Indiana Finals that would draw less viewers than repeats of Seinfeld. And so the referees suddenly remembered Roy Hibbert was Roy Hibbert and gave him five fouls before the third quarter was over and fouled out another pivotal Pacer in Paul George. Miami shot 38 free throws to Indiana’s 20. Miami won by 23. Crisis averted and now they have a Finals for the ages between Miami and San Antonio.
I know this contest is rigged and yet I will be watching every game of the Finals with bated breath. Will the powers that be decide it will be more captivating to audiences if the Heat win and a new dynasty is born or do they prefer the Spurs to win and next year’s storyline will be about whether the Miami Heat can find redemption (again)?
I am the 1960’s housewife who would not leave her living room when her soaps were on. I am the boy who cheers on Hulk Hogan to defeat Andre the Giant in Wrestlemania. I am a fan of NBA basketball.