Duck! and Gather

NBA – I Love This Game! :)

Posted on: June 11, 2008

Almost a year ago, I posted a hastily written essay entitled “Mr. Donaghy was Doing a Good Job“. The thesis of that essay was that Tim Donaghy, a former NBA referee arrested (and now convicted) of fixing NBA games on behalf of the mob, was anything but a simple case of a “rogue employee”. Instead, I argued, Mr. Donaghy’s criminal behavior was only a few degrees more egregious in comparison with the non-criminal but deplorable behavior of his fellow referees and of his employers (the NBA). My notion was that Mr. Donaghy is merely the most noticeable symptom of a systemically diseased body (the NBA).

The above theory of mine arose from two underlying beliefs of mine:

  1. “the money has gone too far” — this is the tag line of my site
  2. truly sociopathic humans are rare, and where they do exist, they don’t practice their sociopathic behavior in the day-to-day course of their regular lives in concert with otherwise “normal” people

The first point above says simply that when any of us places too high a value on money, this warps our lives and drives us into unhealthy behaviors. And since old corporations are nothing but machines for making money, anti-human anomalies are common with them, and easy to spot. The NBA, like Exxon, like Pfizer, like Lockheed Martin, is an old corporation. Accordingly, one would expect to find behavior of that organization contrary to the interests of us humans.

The second point says that Mr. Donaghy’s behavior was sociopathic. He placed his self interest above the interests of the entire sporting fan population. One asshole like that can leave a sour taste in the mouths of sports fans nationwide for a decade. Pretty astonishing behavior for one man.

I say that people like that do not exist unless (a) they hole up in a mountain cabin like the Unabomber, or they hold down a job having nothing to do with their sociopathy (e.g. the Green River Killer), or (b) their sociopathic behavior is conducted as part of their job, and the behavior of their co-workers is comparable, but not sociopathic (e.g. U.S. soldiers in Iraq who bust into a suspect home and rough up the family, but among the soldiers is a sociopath who heads upstairs and rapes the teenage daughter — i.e. his behavior is certainly bad, but arguably part of his job, yet still not).

OK, that’s enough theory. Given what I just told you, you can understand why I was not surprised when the news broke yesterday that Mr. Donaghy is alleging that other refs in the league had “fixed” NBA games, particularly, certain highly memorable playoff games.

Mr. Donaghy does not claim that these other refs took money from the mob for fixing these games. Instead, he says that these corrupt refs were merely good and proper “company men”, loyal to the NBA. He says that they affected games by calling non-existent fouls and by failing to call egregious fouls, thereby transforming a fair contest into an unfair one. Donaghy claims that the NBA has a huge money interest in playoff series being extended, and in certain big-market teams doing well. These other refs, he said, simply made sure that the NBA’s money interests were served by improperly calling the games in this way.

My guess is that Mr. Donaghy is exaggerating about 10-20%. He describes these “company men” referees acting to fix games upon the explicit instruction of the league. I doubt that sort of explicit instruction happened.

But as I explained in the essay cited above, the same result could have been accomplished by the league more subtly, through implicit “instruction”. This implicit nature of the instruction would afford the NBA the luxury of “plausible denial”.

So, obviously, the NBA has responded to Mr. Donaghy’ assertion by vigorous denial. What else could they do?

But now that the cat is out of the bag, it will interesting to watch how things proceed. Even sportswriters are now paying attention to this story. Last year, ESPN buried the story as fast as it could. Not so this year.

Check out the results of today’s ESPN poll entitled Vote: Do you believe Tim Donaghy?. If that link is dead by the time you click it, let me just point out that as of this writing, there were 12,452 votes on a number of questions including the following:

  1. On the question “Do you believe Donaghy’s allegation that two referees conspired to ensure a 2002 playoff series went seven games?”, 86.6% of the fans voted “yes”.
  2. On “Do you believe you ever witnessed a ”fixed” game in the NBA?”, 76.5% voted “yes”.
  3. 85.9% voted “no” on “Are you satisfied with David Stern’s reaction to Donaghy’s latest allegations?”

Last year, ESPN acted as the good “company man” media corporation for the NBA on this story. But this year, with numbers like the above, ESPN risks eroding its own fan base if it continues to play good company man. Ergo, time for ESPN to cut the NBA loose and save its own ass.

As I said last year at the time I wrote up the essay, this story is not just about basketball. It’s an allegory and foreshadowing of the coming demise of old harmful corporations in industries having nothing to do with basketball. These are interesting days, my friend.

Update @ 12.02 p.m. PST: The poll now has 18,323 votes and the numbers on the three cited questions have gone up to 88.5%, 80%, and 88.3%.

for the money has gone too far

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