01 April 2009
Q: Did you see the Heat-Pistons game on Sunday, March 22? I know the announcers were carrying their orders from the league office to praise Wade at every opportunity, but in the last minute, Wade fell down on a touch foul after getting touched on his foot (got the whistle), then blocked two shots where he mauled the Pistons with way more contact (no calls). Are the refs warming up for the playoffs or what?
-- Sam G., Ann Arbor, Mich.
SG: Here's what ticks me off: As the Miami Salvatores were whistling their way to the 2006 title, you might remember me writing a column that started, "Forget about who's winning the championship. I'm starting to feel like the future of the NBA is at stake." I warned everyone that a Miami victory meant we could "look forward to another decade of perimeter scorers going 11-for-32 in big games, teammates standing around while stars dribble at the top of the key waiting to challenge two defenders at once, and refs deciding every big game (like in Game 5) by how they interpret contact when the same guy is recklessly driving to the basket over and over again." I also wrote, "seeing an individual triumph over a team YET AGAIN would erase every positive outcome from the 2005-06 season. Basically, the team with LeBron or Wade will win the next 10-12 titles, and it will come down to which guy made more 20-footers with two guys on him and which guy got the most cheap calls from the most spineless referees. That's not basketball, it's a star system."
Flash-forward to 2009: With the post-Donaghy hangover gone, we're back to that star system again. Kobe, LeBron and Wade are officiated differently than everyone else. And you know what else? They know it. Watch LeBron at the end of games now -- he barrels toward the basket, bounces off guys and knows he'll get a call. Here's the shame of it: LeBron, Wade and Kobe are playing at the highest level of any three stars since Jordan, Barkley and Hakeem in 1993. They would be great with or without the help. I don't blame them -- they play hard every night and do whatever it takes to win. But if you don't think we're headed for a Kobe-LeBron Finals, you're insane. As your gambling accountant, I suggest you investigate those 6-to-5 odds on a Cavs-Lakers Finals. And no, this isn't a reverse jinx. Just watch what happens.