Even back then, non-conspiracy-theorists thought the refing was fishy. This is what a Sacremento Bee columnist wrote after that game in 2002:
As if the Kings' centers don't earn enough legitimate fouls by grabbing, hacking, shoving, and in general, doing anything necessary to slow the massive O'Neal, what should have been a gripping, tug-of-war fourth quarter decided by another dramatic play, instead evolved into a free-throw shooting exhibition.
The series deserved better. The players deserved better.
Disqualifying both of the Kings' centers on a couple of shaky fourth-quarter calls was, well, no way to win points with the viewing masses.
"They call the game one way for five games," said a still furious Divac, "and then they change everything. Tonight, we have no chance. Just let us play. We'll beat them. We won this game tonight. It's just not on paper. My sixth foul ... ridiculous."
Yep, definitely one of those bad-ref nights.
Tim Donaghy ... too funny.
And just today comes a report from the New York Times that adds to the gravity of the situation.
Hue Hollins, who retired in 2003 and has been outspoken about the N.B.A.’s treatment of referees, said he met for about an hour with two agents from New York before last season. In addition to asking questions about Donaghy, Hollins said the agents inquired extensively about Bavetta.
They asked if he ever noticed that Bavetta “was making sure that the home team would win, and I told them I had no idea because I didn’t work with him a lot.” Hollins said the agents did not ask about a specific team, game or series and did not ask about Game 6 in 2002.
“They were very specific about their questioning, as though they had heard something,” Hollins said. “They knew exactly what they were going after.”
My opinion on all this ... well I think one thing is for sure: Tim Donaghy fixed games. There are conspiracy theorists out there that believe David Stern almost certainly fixes scenarios to his liking. For instance, many question the validity of the 1985 Draft Lottery, which gave the Knicks Patrick Ewing. There's also the draft lottery that gave the Wizards the 1st pick (I just vomited in my own mouth thinking about Kwame) in the first year of the ill-fated Michael Jordan experiment. And I vaguely remember reading an article earlier in the season where Stern flat out said he prefers Finals matchups involving big markets (but I can't seem to locate it, so Stern is technically off the hook there).
Again, too funny.
Frankly, I'm not sure what to believe. As a fan of the league, I don't know how I could handle there being a fix in the NBA, making it resemble pro wrestling. While most know, I was a huuuggee wrestling fan back in the day, I don't think it would translate well to the NBA (unless they get cool entrance music and pyro every time someone enters a game...it might elongate the game but imagine Kobe raising his arms in the air and igniting fire from the scorer's table upon entrance a la Kane).
Have no fear, though, Michael Wilbon is here. In a Washington Post column today, Wilbon comes up with a novel idea
Stern needs to empower an independent panel to investigate referees and their relationship with the league in much the same way Major League Baseball conducted an independent investigation into steroid use.
Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban has for years been calling for a complete overhaul and independent monitoring of the league's officials. Phil Jackson is quoted by various news organizations as saying he and many of the coaches also want a separation of referees and the league. He was quoted saying that referees should be under a separate entity than the NBA entirely. "It seems to be more consistent with what we want to have happen to keep it from being influenced," Jackson said.
That seems like a simple and easy solution to me. Stern needs to address this immediately and not let all this ill-fated reffing business ruin another NBA Finals mathcup in the future. By the way, we had Spygate, why hasn't this one gotten a cool name? Wilbon suggests refgate, but that's just so bland. Donagate might work. I'll stick with that and let you know if I come up with anything better.