We have to wait another month to learn if Tim Donaghy's fragmentation grenade at the integrity of the National Basketball Association is taken seriously. In the meantime, we are presumably supposed to enjoy the rest of the Finals.
|If Tim Donaghy has the goods, it's going to be bad for David Stern and the NBA. (AP)|
After Game 2, in which the Celtics shot 38 free throws to the Lakers' 10 and sparked the NBA fan's second favorite pastime -– claiming loudly that the sport he or she loves is utterly crooked and that his or her favorite team is always the one being screwed -– Donaghy and his lawyer, John Lauro, filed court papers claiming that other series, most infamously Game 6 of the 2002 Western Conference finals between the Lakers and Sacramento Kings, had been fixed by officials.
Donaghy is trying to get his sentence reduced, and David Stern went to extraordinary lengths to remind us that Donaghy is a felon. Of course, this is a red herring, as members of a conspiracy are rarely cloistered nuns, but yes, Donaghy is one of those dirty officials. We get that.
On the other hand, this one isn't spinnable, and Stern looks like a fool trying. If he is worried Donaghy has the goods, he needs to say, "We have turned over everything we have to any national, state and local authorities who need them." If he isn't, he should do it anyway, and then say, "If we have a problem, they'll find it." Transparency, Davey. I know you hate it, but you need transparency. More than ever.
The central fact here, though, is that Donaghy is employing the exciting new legal strategy of the day, namely, "OK, you got me, now let's talk accomplices and fellow miscreants." And all he has to be is provably right.
If he isn't, then life goes on blissfully, with most of the fans surer than ever that the NBA has the kind officiating issues one normally associates with the WWE. If he is, we'll live with the unsettling notion that this is actually the NBE -– National Basketball Entertainment. And Donaghy will reap the whirlwind for trying to save himself.
It has long been a fascination of ours to see how many NBA fans will endure and even enjoy what they believe to their souls to be crooked games. More than any other sport (yes, including the NFL, where money is bet, and boxing, where fixing used to be standard operating procedure), basketball's fans watch games they believe to be tampered with, and keep coming back. They're like figure skating fans, who learned to factor in the idea that the judges were straight from Enron Central Casting, and kept coming back for more.
But if Donaghy is right and can prove what he claims, then Conspiracy Nation is right, and the NBA deserves the million-pound filth-hammer coming its way. Let the firings and prosecutions commence.
We're not foolish enough to think that NBA ratings or ticket demand will fall appreciably. Figure skating was at its height when its judges wore tuxedos with ski masks and carried erasable white boards where their scoring tablets should be. Football fans claim their games are rigged to their team's detriment all the time, and if you don't think so, you may ask a Raider fan for further confirmation; they think games they won were rigged against them. People think they know they are watching dishonest games, but keep coming back because they would rather watch a crooked game than none at all.
But it was one thing when Joey Crawford got dinged for running Tim Duncan for misdemeanor smiling (and felony whining) a year ago. That was just temper unchecked. Donaghy is talking about the Kings having their games stolen, about Yao Ming and the Houston Rockets getting Cuban-ed in 2005, about Lord knows what else. In the raft of Team Fs and Official Ks and rampant star-protection and nepotism in the court filings, one can get vertigo trying to connect the dots.
Even the quote from Lamell McMorris, the head of the officials union, referred pointedly to "current officials" not being involved, leaving the possibility that non-current ones might be. Words are being chosen very carefully right now, and the trick to reading between them is going to be increasingly helpful in the days to come.
(And as a personal aside, this is why newspapers and websites should always have officials' names at the bottom of the box scores. We do; I checked.)
Do we want Donaghy's story to be true? Maybe, for a moment. Nothing says a good talker quite like the smell of burning tires and ruined careers.
On the other hand, do we want to continue to invest time, heart and money in a sport we clearly enjoy while suspecting almost daily that what we see is fraud?
Those are questions only the consumer can ask, but this much is sure. If Tim Donaghy's sentencing date July 14 is delayed, consider it an indication that the feds aren't as convinced as David Stern would like them to be.
And enjoy the rest of the Finals at your peril.
Ray Ratto is a columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle.