From One Bumpy Ride To Another
Since things have quieted some on the Tim Donaghy front (thank goodness) and I missed yesterday's chat working on today's story, I decided to check in for a second because I haven't had time to blog recently.
I was on vacation last week in Costa Rica and I found out about the officiating scandal Friday night in my hotel room, watching CNN (one of the few English channels on my TV). My initial reaction was, "Oh my goodness, this is the biggest story since I started covering the league and I'm not there." I also wondered about the damage this scandal will have on the NBA.
Not that it ruined my vacation - I still had fun the next day - but it let me know that I had a whole lot in store when I returned to D.C. on Monday. I must say the past few days have been pretty grueling, chasing a story that is being drilled to death right now - but it still isn't getting as much attention as Michael Vick.
But the reaction to this case - the "Sky Is Falling" cries from media pundits that this will forever ruin the league and scare away casual fans for good - made me think back to my horrific flight back from San Jose, which was the scariest plane ride of my life. And, I fly all the time.
It started innocently enough when the pilot said, "This should be a smooth ride back. We don't expect to see any turbulence." Ten minutes later, the plane started rocking and shaking. I looked at my wife and said, "Smooth ride, huh?" She said, "I don't know what his definition of smooth is, but this isn't mine." We thought we had survived the bumpy portion of our trip, but it got worse about 20 minutes later.
All of the sudden, the plane made a roller-coaster worthy dip that made me feel like my intestines had moved up to my throat. You could hear a chorus of moans from all over the plane, then it really got frightening: the plane was pointed down and we continued to sink at an alarming rate. A woman behind me began to scream repeatedly, "Oh! Oh! Oh!" She held her hand against her heart, Fred Sanford style, as the people beside her tried to calm her down. I just knew she was having a heart attack.
I looked at my wife, like, "So, this is how it ends?"
Little did I know that she was holding a glass of orange juice in her hand - and I suddenly got a lesson in gravity. As the plane made another steep decline, the orange juice shot from her cup and splashed against the ceiling of the plane and sprinkled onto us, like orange raindrops. I took several deep breaths to calm by racing heart. The woman behind me continued to look like she was having the big one.
Eventually, the pilot righted the plane. Once it settled, the pilot said, "Sorry, folks. We just hit a bad patch. We didn't see it on our radar. We apologize."
What does this have to do with the Donaghy situation? Well, this is just another unexpected and turbulent situation. The NBA is chartering through a very serious and dangerous patch. It will be difficult to navigate, some aspects of it may be frightening, but the league will survive.
A major reason why the league will be okay in the long run, is that none of its television partners bailed. When that happens, and the billion dollar contracts get ripped up, look out. But until then, this will hang over the league for awhile - at least until the legal situation involving Donaghy is resolved, and the NBA possibly makes wholesale changes in the way in which it reviews referees or establishes a better security system to investigate its employees.
The bottom line is, the NBA is the best, most entertaining and exciting basketball league in the world. Trust me, I've been to Europe and I've watched the major leagues there to know that the product doesn't get better than it does here in the United States. And, if you are a hoops junkie, where else are you going to get your fix?
I'm not trying to diminish the impact of an allegedly crooked official betting on games and possibly conspiring with gamblers to fix the results. It truly is the worst nightmare for a legitimate sports league. If fans cannot believe that the results are real, then you basically have pro wrestling.
This truly is an unfortunate situation. But I'm not ready to join the Chicken Little crew right now - especially if Donaghy truly is a "rogue, isolated criminal," as Commissioner David Stern said. You toss out the bad apple and move on. Even if other officials are involved, which could be a possibility, you can toss out the bad apples and move on.
This may actually be good for the NBA, because now it can address an issue that fans, coaches, executives and players have been complaining about for years: shoddy officiating. People have and always will complain about referees and Stern has taken huge steps to protect them over the years, but maybe the NBA can take some steps to be more open and transparent about the process. Maybe it can find a way to develop more young and talented officials (I don't know if you've noticed, but a lot these dudes are in their 60s and some in are their 70s - and running with high-flying 20-year-olds?). Maybe it can ensure a better product on the floor.
That's the big issue here: the product. If the NBA can provide the fans with the best show from the likes of LeBron James, Steve Nash, Kobe Bryant, Dwyane Wade and Tim Duncan, the hardcore fans will stay on board. Casual fans may even come along if the game is more entertaining. I honestly believe the game is bigger than one bad ref.
We have a tendency to go overboard with controversies and scandals when it comes to NBA. The brawl at the Palace of Auburn Hills, Mich., was considered the lowest moment in Stern's tenure before Donaghy. It hasn't been forgotten, and while there have constant reverberations (such as the dress code - remember when that was a big deal? - and age minimum) I have yet to see the debilitating or totally negative impact on the game.
This too, will pass.
I just can't wait to get back to watching basketball again. I bet you Stern can't either.
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