Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Bias in the NBA

NBA fans, at least the objective ones, have known for a long time that the rules don't seem to be exactly equal when it comes to league referees making calls during the course of games.

Recent case in point: Guard Ray Allen, formerly a long-time fixture with the Boston Celtics, who jumped ship to the Miami Heat before last year and won a title. Allen is a well-known commodity. During a game against the Minnesota Timberwolves, Allen was dribbling the ball and pushed off with his free arm on Minnesota defender JJ Barea. (Barea obviously does not enjoy the same name recognition as Allen.) Perhaps technically it should have been called a foul, but things like that happen all the time in the NBA so play went on. It was no big deal and no call was made. However, just a short while later, much the same scenario played itself out, but that time Barea gave Allen a similar one-armed shove. It was no big deal either, but Allen became incensed. He attempted to charge Barea, with what looked like mayhem on his mind, for what he deemed to have been some sort of assault upon his person. Luckily, other players and officials intervened and stopped the incident from escalating. Nevertheless, when all was said and done, Barea had been slapped with a flagrant foul, Miami somehow wound up shooting 3 technical foul free throws, and Barea was ejected from the game. Allen would not only play on, but claimed in a post-game TV interview that what Barea had done was "bush league". In reality, Barea had done no more to Allen than Allen had done to him a short while before. Evidently, Ray-Ray thinks it's OK to do things to others, but when he gets a dose of his own medicine -- it's time to throw down. Worse yet, the officials in the league seem to buy into it.

It's happened a lot in the league over the years. Everybody remembers Shaquille O'Neal. Between height and weight, he was probably the player with the most total girth ever to play in the NBA. Shaq would routinely receive the ball maybe 10-12 feet from basket. Never much of a shooter, he'd typically lower his shoulder, take one dribble, and make contact with a stationary defender -- pushing him back a foot or two. Excuse me, but that was a foul. Another dribble, another bump, another couple feet of displacement. Repeat a couple more times -- and presto -- Shaq would be right under the basket, and merely stand on his toes to slam home a dunk. Because Shaq was a super-star, nobody batted an eye and such a play was deemed acceptable. Nevermind he committed 3-4 charging fouls along the way which weren't called. For that matter, consider the opposite scenario. The very same player that Shaq pushed around is trying to score himself on the other end of the court. If he bumped into the man-mountain, chances are he'd just bounce off, maybe even winding up on the floor. But incredibly, he might get whistled for a charging call, and Shaq might be bricking a couple more free throw attempts. How could that be right?

Besides Ray Allen on the Miami Heat, super-star Dwyane Wade routinely gets away with bulldozing a defender on the way to the basket. If any call is made, it typically goes against the defender. Not only did he get knocked down, he'll have to watch D-Wade shoot free throws. That's always been OK. Still is. Flip the scenario, and have that same guy run over Wade in the same manner, and not only will he get called for charging, but perhaps "flagrantly". To boot, Wade would probably jump up and want to fight like Allen did, and the poor guy that got ran over on the other end of the court 20 seconds ago in the same fashion, by the same guy, would be lucky if HE didn't get tossed out of the game. It's not right.

We've seen other big names get away with the same shenanigans over the years. Kobe Bryant can push, shove, bump, poke, and pretty much do whatever he wants without a whistle blowing. If a defender somehow makes the slightest incidental contact with Kobe, Mr. Bryant will often fall to the floor writhing in pain like he just got tased. Tweet goes the official's whistle. While still grimacing, limping, or shaking an arm trying to get the "feeling" back into it from the horrific "physical abuse" he had suffered moments earlier, Kobe will shoot free throws. Most times he'll even favor the leg that supposedly originally got hurt, or shake the correct arm, trying to get some "feeling" back into it, that supposedly originally suffered the "brutal" contact. Regardless, magically, as play recommences, Kobe is completely cured. It's a miracle. And the refs continue to buy it. Paul Pierce of the Boston Celtics does much the same thing, along with others.

Likely the all time Rodney Dangerfield poster-child for getting no respect was former Detroit Piston Bill Laimbeer. There were countless times when Laimbeer would establish his defensive position, arms straight up in the air, and stand as still as a snowman. Then somebody like Michael Jordan would run right through him on the way to the basket, with Laimbeer winding up on the floor. Guess who got called for a foul?

And it's not even just basketball. It's always happened in other sports as well. The good players always seem to get the benefit of the calls, sometimes to the point of being outrageous. Tom Glavine, longtime ace pitcher for the Atlanta Braves and likely future Hall of Famer, had his own scam going on for years. Glavine was just a little guy, and he didn't have overpowering stuff, but he possessed precise control with his pitches. Glavine would routinely throw a pitch thigh-high, but 3-4 inches outside the strike zone. He knew it was a ball. The catcher knew it was a ball, the batter knew it was a ball, and everybody watching on TV knew it was a ball. But with his control, Glavine would keep "painting" that same spot over and over and over again. After a while, the home plate umpire would somehow become convinced that if Glavine could keep hitting the same spot over and over again -- they must be strikes, so he'd call them strikes. It seemed to happen every time, with every different umpire -- for years -- but those pitches were all still balls. When the batters would start crowding the plate to cover them, all Glavine had to do was throw a little "chin music" one time, or plunk a guy in the ribs, and the opposing hitters would back off the plate to start the cycle over again. Glavine was truly a master at that art, but it didn't make it right.

And don't get me started on soccer. Some of those guys put folks like Kobe to shame with their drama queen routines. It's like if an opposing player even comes close to touching them, they'll flop to the pitch like they just stepped on a land mine. A minute later they'll be back running up and down the field. Another miracle.

But it isn't right. Never has been. Never will be.

Granted, some athletes are more talented than others, and salaries can vary wildly. But hey, if they're playing the same game in the same league -- is it really too much to ask that they play by the same rules?

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